TI makes a big bid for the hobby market

This morning Texas Instruments unveiled Launchpad, a development platform for their low-cost MSP430 line of microcontrollers. We’ve seen these chips before, most notably in the ez430 Chronos sports watch. We see this as a bid for the hobby market currently enjoyed by Arduino, PIC, AVR, and others. TI’s biggest selling point is price, but we’re going to wait to share that with you. Join us after the break to see what the package offers, then decide if the price is right.

What is it?

We received a contact request on our tip line from a public relations firm on behalf of Texas Instruments. The video conference paired us with one of their engineers who took us through the details of the package, mentioning the low price tag every minute or so. Launchpad is a programming and development board for the TI MSP430. It has a machined DIP socket that can accept chips with up to 20 pins. All of these pins are broken out to the header ports on either side of the board, which resemble the Arduino layout to us. Good news, unlike the Arduino the header spacing falls into the 0.1″ divisions necessary to interface with common protoboard. TI is also looking for community involvement, pushing thier Lunchapad Wiki to help you get stated and asking that you add you knowledge as you find success with the 16-bit platform.

What’s inside?

Each Launchpad device comes with a whole lot of goodness. In addition to the board itself you get a 0.5 meter USB cable, two pin headers and two pin sockets for the pin breakout pads, two different MSP430 microprocessors (MSP430G2211 and MSP430G2231), and two free IDEs; Code Composer Studio 4 and IAR Embedded Workbench Kickstart (note that the latter has a 4K or 8K code limitation depending on the processor used).


Hands down TI is trying to make price the biggest issue with this release. The presentation we were given included the price in large red numbers on seven of the thirteen slides. So here it is: Launchpad will set you back four dollars and thirty cents. And for now shipping is included.


It’s important to note that we haven’t had the board in hand yet. That being said, for $4.30 it’s worth the risk just to get the USB cable and a couple of processors. We’re amazed that they’ve beaten back the price to this point and delighted that you get the programmer and two microcontrollers, not to mention the other components. We like the fact that they didn’t develop an alternative language like Arduino did for the AVR controllers. This makes it easy to clear the hurdle of setting up a programmer, IDE and toolchain, and get right down to developing in C. After all, the chips are dirt cheap and quite powerful. You may remember 3000 of them from a project we saw over the weekend.

We’d imagine the initial demand will be quite high and hope they have the stock to keep up.


Unboxing Video

Demo Application Video

246 thoughts on “TI makes a big bid for the hobby market

  1. The Wiki has changed the link to point to Mouser, and now you have to pay shipping (only 77 cents in the US, but a massive $21.18 shipping to Canada). So much for free shipping to us Canadians.

  2. WOW! I was considering buying an Arduino for a while, but I couldn’t justify spending that kind of money for one when I currently don’t have the slightest idea of what I would do with it. But for $5? Hell, I’ll buy two.

  3. Urza9814, if you dont know anything at all about microcontrollers, well good luck and when it ends up at the bottom of a desk drawer let me know, I might need a spare

  4. FYI CCSv4 has a cap at 16k. And this device supports SpyBiWire, so you are not limited to only the value line (which by the way are under 50 cents a piece!) for example the MSP430F2254 has 16k and can be programmed with SpyBiWire. You can also do in circuit programming by plugging into the dip socket. I use the msp430 alot, and I find it easier/better than arduino because I know the code (meaning the actual ASM code) I am running and CCS has a good debugger too. I am not for using some arbitrary library that someone else coded, that results in bloated code, that teaches arduino users that 2k or 4k isnt enough. I think this launchpad is an excellent idea and solves the problem with the eZ430 of not being able to program other chips than the daughter cards TI supplies. If you take a look inside your Fluke DMMs, you will find an MSP430.

  5. What’s with the low power hype? msp430 might be lowest power 5 years ago but not anymore. Even the newer picopower AVRs and XLP PICs are on the same level at low voltage/freq and in shutdown (which isn’t much helpful since you can’t do anything)

  6. I guess they should have had a limit, 2-5 for regular people, and 30-40 for schools etc.

    Well, I wanted one, too bad I guess.

    Why Doesn’t Atmel do this? I mean $10-15 Arduino’s instead of what they cost now.

    I went ahead and bought enough stuff for 5 Atmega boards for around $50, but it was tough and I had to shop separately for everything (eBay, Fry’s, Rat Shack)

  7. good going on the cost. I want to order a couple of them for my hobby projects.
    when trying to order, but e-store still giving proxy error – is it just me in japan or e-store doesn’t work across the globe?

    502 Proxy Error
    Proxy Error
    The proxy server could not handle the request GET /merchant2/merchant.mvc.

    Reason: Error reading from remote server

  8. Still. The price is so low that Atmel can’t compete for similarly spec’d chips. The price for the chip itself is 30-40 cents! Atmels only alternative would be the Tiny11, which isn’t compatible to the recent lineup and has no good programming capabilities.

  9. some typos:

    Second paragraph, last line.
    “TI is also looking for community involvement, pushing thier [sic] Lunchapad [sic] Wiki to help you get stated [sic] and asking that you add you [sic] knowledge as you find success with the 16-bit platform.”

    should be…
    “TI is also looking for community involvement, pushing th[ei]r L[aunch]pad Wiki to help you get sta[r]ted and asking that you add you[r] knowledge as you find success with the 16-bit platform.”

    Other than that, it’s a great article, well put together. The suspense was killing me.

    As Brennan said, “…[one would] be crazy NOT to buy of these just to fool around with it at the very least.”

  10. I ordered two. The platform was recommended to me by a retired contractor who works with electronics and microcontrollers.

    All the bad things people say can’t keep me away. It is one more platform to gain experience on. It is small and I believe the chips are relatively cheap.

    I can afford to risk $8.60 and I think it is well worth it when everyone else is nickle and diming me at my expense.

    Thank you, TI! Thank you, Hackaday!

  11. @Al

    Mouser charges whatever they want. They buy a bunch from TI and resell them.

    Arrow has them for 4.35 or you could wait for TI’s website to get sorted out. It’ll probably be fine in a couple of days.

  12. I think I pass.

    We don’t use credit cards much in The Netherlands so we get to pay a nice 19.00 Euro’s wire transfer fee (via Mouser). And ?free? shipping is not so very free at 20 euro’s, of course there’s VAT to pay 4.59.

    Price for this package comes to: EUR 47.77.
    ( http://bit.ly/d6BjSI )

    Order is canceled!!!!!!

    I stick to my Arduino’s and PICS! A lot cheaper.

  13. @ steve,

    Arrow is out now too.

    As I said, you need limits or this price will be taken advantage of.

    It is in Ti’s interests to get it in the hands of many people, not many in the hands of few people.

    I would bet it is resellers hogging the inventory.

  14. From TI’s website:

    Easy-to-use – LaunchPad includes all of the hardware and software needed to get started. Open source projects and code examples help users get up and running quickly.

    “Open source projects”. No one has mentioned this up to this point. Either it has just been added, or everyone posting is a little cautious when they read *open source* written by the ad guys.

    I’ll probably order a couple myself Friday (when I get paid), but someone earlier said something about a 28-week lead time. That comes out to the first week or so of next January. By the time I order, it might be next summer.

    No matter how many they SELL, it will be the number they get INTO hacker’s & hobbist’s hands that will determine how much market share they can ultimately grab.

  15. “Why Doesn’t Atmel offer a cheap [arduino or similar device]?”
    They do. Butterfly, Raven, xClaim, and Dragon all qualify, IMO. Probably more. Especially Butterfly. Not cheap enough for you ? The price of dinner at a mid-scale restaurant instead of McDonalds? That’s a separate issue (although I’ve picked up several Atmel dev boards extra cheap or free at trade shows and/or marketing events. (and bought others.)) Didn’t you buy a tube of tiny11s back when they were $0.25 in small quantities, and build yourself a cheap programmer? Why not?

  16. Just to reiterate, it was only free shipping through the TI estore, not through mouser. Nothing was ever said about Mouser giving free shipping (although I do realize a banner leading to Mouser says free shipping).

    BTW, the Wiki page now says:

    “Ship Date

    July 5”

    Doesn’t sound like 28 weeks to me :).

  17. I managed to get my order in just after the announcement went up, just before the webpage went down :)

    I got my confirmation email 12+ hours later, stating it is on backorder. However as far as I remember it was listed as on backorder on the website from the start. These are pre-orders that we are placing, thats why they are so cheap. Hopefully its on a first come first served basis as i certainly came first! Oooh errr….

  18. For those of you kvetching about crippleware – like most TI bundles this should be coming with the ‘bundle license’ version of CCSv4 — NOT the EVAL or code size limited versions.

    That means the only thing likely “crippled” on it is going to be it’s going to be target limited to the MSP 430 – which means for working with Launchpad it’s not crippled AT ALL.

    I would also point out that the two included microcontrollers only have 2k of flash and 128 bytes of RAM, meaning the 4k limit on IAR Workbench is also a TOTAL NON ISSUE!!! That would also then apply to the code limited version of CCS as well – since it’s damned unlikely you’d ever need the 16k maximum compile size limit with ANY of the 430’s in the value line that even fit the board since not one of them comes with more than 2k of flash!

  19. Finally made it through the basket phase only to learn that Russia is not in the list of countries. It’s always nice and warming to feel yourself being in a 4-th world country, sure, Zimbabwe is ok, Russia is not. Way to *(&@# go #@(*^& TI, die in hell.

  20. Maybe they have actually learned something from their debacle with the TI990, which came out about the same time as the TRS80.

    For those of you too young to remember, this is how that played out:

    Radio Shack tried half-heartedly, but utterly failed, to make their system a closed one. Their TRS-80 was hacked almost as soon as it hit the shelves. Just about everybody you could imagine was selling plug-in hardware, and software, for the TRS-80.

    There were more TRS-80s sold than all other computers, of any type, combined, up to that time. That record stood until over a year after IBM introduced their 8088-based PC. Radio Shack had a 10% or 15% share of what became a multi-billion-dollar market.

    The TI900 was the first commercially available 16-bit PC, and had substantially more processing power and address space than the TRS-80. TI succeeded completely in making their system completely closed, with the only way to develop software for the TI990 being a $10,000 developer’s kit with a really onerous licensing agreement.

    TI sold a few dozen TI990s. I don’t know for sure how many of the development systems they sold, but I could probably count them on my fingers. Of one hand. TI managed to get a 100% share of almost no market at all.

  21. 2nd world svofski, 2nd world.

    1st world == NATO and associated allies, 2nd world == Warsaw Pact, 3rd world == everyone else.

    Not being on the list is probably a result of still suffering from the IT embargo left over from the cold war.

  22. If you order one of these from the UK it seems to re-direct the request to a company called Mouser Electronics, they are putting on a £12.00 shipping charge, check your invoice, I’ve just phoned and cancelled.

  23. Just ordered 2 from mouser.

    I wonder how much they are losing on each unit. If the volume is large enough, they might be selling them at cost, but it is hard to say.

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