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. @NicUK

    I ordered 2 from the UK @ about 10am this morning, throught the TI website and haven’t been charged any extra according to the invoice..? $8.60 + $0.00 shipping…

  2. @alex: Your credit card info isn’t matching. Check to make sure your name, billing address, etc. match EXACTLY.

    It took me about 10 attempts to figure out which item was causing that.

  3. @Alex

    I was getting similar errors yesterday evening/night. When I tried late this morning, had no such trouble.

    People said it was the wiki that was redirecting to Mouser. I still had the page on TI’s shop open since yesterday (the original one which was linked before the Mouser switchover) so perhaps I was being served a different page to you and got lucky? Ie. Original link was to the TI page I saw, then they switched to a link to Mouser, then switched to a (different) TI page which you saw??

  4. As one other user noted, the whole spacing thing on the Arduino board was a “last minute rush job” mistake (literally an “11th hour” thing); do some research on the Arduino website and you can find mellis or one of the other mods (can’t remember who) noting that they were rushing late at night to get the PCBs designed (back for the ATMega8), and he misaligned the header, and they didn’t know it until waaay too late. Even so, it obviously didn’t stop anyone (and probably made more than a few people learn EagleCAD/GEDA).

    The ATMega328 (not sure if the 168 is still made or not) is cheap in “standalone” mode; a few dollars at most. You don’t need the Arduino board (which several companies and individuals make variants of – Atmel only supplies the chips) to program one; just bring out the ICSP header and use a programmer – or if you have the bootloader on-board, bring out a header for an FTDI breakout or cable (there’s even an “el-cheapo” option using a Nokia cellphone cable).

    You don’t even need to use a crystal or resonator if you want; the thing works with power and ground, no problem (you’re limited to the internal clock, which runs IIRC at 8 MHz?, and you would need to change the bootloader and such to program it, unless you used ICSP).

    I can’t see using the ATMega line of processors for low-cost embedded use, where you’re running off thousands of copies of a cheap product; it isn’t meant for that, anyhow. But for many uses its perfect, its cheap (come on – even a real official Arduino board and such is only $30.00 or thereabout – I’ve spent more for 2 meals at Jack in the Box before – and for a real “product” you wouldn’t embed the entire board anyhow; plus, compared to a BASIC Stamp 2 – its dirt cheap).

    Give me open systems any day of the week; if they want to stay closed, good luck with that (it’s what drove me away from the BASIC Stamp 2 – Parallax’s compiler, which was binary only and statically compiled against various linux libs, only supported 32-bit systems, and my 64-bit workstation just wouldn’t work, and with static links – well, IA32 wouldn’t work either).

  5. @UltraMagnus

    The downloadable IDEs are crippled but will be fully featured when interfaced with a value-line product, according to the video. So, as long as you use this product, it’s fully featured, like the Arduino, it’s basically an IDE that you can only use with one product (or an entire line of products in this case).

  6. It’s not that it’s a very good board/micro or I have any use for it at all. But it’s red and only $4.30 –> instant coup de coeur.

    On a second thought, I guess TI just decided to get rid of obsolete stock of old micros.

  7. Just talked to a customer service representative in Australia, after ordering one kit and being told it is out of stock / back ordered.


  8. Highly disappointed with TIs website. I got on this within the first couple hours it went up, got the email confirmation and everything was AOK…. until 12 hours later I got another email saying I was on back order. No mention of how long to wait.

  9. i actually already got my launchpad and i’m a long time msp430 user. i wanted to clarify a couple things in case you’re curious.

    1. the msp430 can run up to 16MHz using the on-chip oscillator, however it defaults to 1MHz on start up. the kit includes a 32KHz crystal if you want more accurate real-time.

    2. the software (CCS) is actually not limited to the launchpad. you can use it with all of TI’s MCUs and DSP (and there are a ton of them). the free version is limited to only 16KB of code, but these devices include only 2KB so it’s effectively unlimited. for linux/open-source die hards, you can use the MSPGCC compiler.

    3. for the arduino-lovers, keep in mind that, in theory, the arduino software can run on any hardware platform. if someone wanted to port the arduino software library to launchpad, this could work as a lower cost arduino option. i personally like c programming, but i know there’s a ton of arduino users who might disagree with me.

  10. Had to give up on the TI store, the ‘card auth error’ was a no-go. However the Mouser website (set to the UK, ‘cos that’s were I am) shows the availability of stock as “due to ship in 10 days” (we’ll see…) and a factory lead time of “3 weeks”. The price is also just £3.34 each – which seems about right with the UK VAT added on. The Mouser site also shows that back order items ship for free, and as this is showing up as a delayed item, I *think* I just got mine shipped out FREE (the order page showed the cost of delivery as “£0.00” via FedEx, where it should have been £12.00). So fingers crossed!

    Others in the UK (probably other countries too) may want to try this route instead, and still get your free shipping. :)

  11. @BikeHelmet

    You’re not kidding about the cc info matching exactly, down to punctuation and contractions, eg st vs street. I had to guess a few times to get everything just right.

  12. “The free shipping offer is actually with the TI e-store but as their website is currently down they are redirecting customers to our site.

    If you are able to increase your order with Mouser to GBP 50.00 on standard sized products you will be able to qualify for the Mouser free shipping. Otherwise our discounted international shipping rate is GBP 12.00. We apologise for any confusion caused by the TI website.”

    email from mouser

  13. OMG after a day of emails, sending screenshots of orders and a bit of anglo american law i finally got mouser to honour their promise during ordering of free shipping to the UK. Mouser clearly promised free shipping themselves but then changed this in the confirmation email. They now have TI paying for the shipping (£12) through them!

    It took some time but both companies made themselves look good in the end.

    I’ve always used coridium products but it will be good to buff up on my assembly.

  14. I specifically asked during the presentation if either of the IDEs that TI provides work with Linux and I was told that one of them did. Now that I have one of these in hand I find out that there’s no Linux support at all. I don’t use any other systems so it looks like I’m not going to be playing with these chips after all. I guess I’ll stick with AVR.

  15. @The Cageybee
    There is 1 timer (timer A) with 2 capture and compare registers. That allows you to drive PWM (hardware PWM) though you can only have one hardware PWM with this chip. And there is watch dog timer which you can also use to generate timing event.

    Yes, you can drive servos.

    There are some code examples for different peripherals here:


  16. What the first poster does not realize, even the 4k/8k IAR KickStart allows more code space than there is flash on the MSP430 G series microcontrollers, and the CCE4 code limit larger than most of the F2 series (the full version of the G series micros) flash space.

    Think small

  17. I also forgot to mention that TI’s CCE4 is built on open-source tools. It uses the GCC C compiler for MSP430 and GDB for loading and debugging the software. If you really wanted to, you could make your own open-source toolkit.

    I used to work with someone who used MSP430 with all open source tools. I find that CCE is much simpler and easier to use to make a workable product.

  18. For those of you still on the fence, there’s a sweeter deal to be had. Enter code HALFMSPTOOL at checkout and you can get it for only $2.15. I know I’ve ordered mine.

  19. I started on the Trash-80, with 4K. It was good programming training because you had to write tight code.

    Yes, I know it was in interpreted BASIC. That makes my point even more valid.

  20. what special language does the arduino use? it seems to be straight c/c to me, though thoughtfully positioned under a decent framework of os libraries and a bootloader to make development easier than straight c. nothing keeping you from doing anythibg you want in c or c though that i can see.

  21. I received the ones that I ordered straight from TI today, and I have a shipping notice for the units I ordered from Mouser.

    Its not a bad little package, especially for $4.30 each. Sure, its limited, but its bang for the buck is extremely high.

  22. At $4.30 I can probably do something with these but like others I am wary of these going the same way as the STM8S Discovery – Bargains but sitting in a drawer gathering dust.

    The problem with STM8S was that it was just so difficult for most hobbyists to get a grip on when they are familiar with Arduino, Basic Stamp and so forth which are simple type and click to download IDEs.

    I note the User Guide is ‘coming soon’ and that doesn’t bode well. STM8S lost the momentum, had huge take-up but never seems to have caught on.

  23. I got an e-mail update from Mouser today, “estimated shipping date” is now Sept 13… :(

    On the plus side, I had it confirmed I’m getting free shipping. It’s a long wait, but I suppose at that price and free shipping, I can’t complain too much. Back to AVR for now, I guess.

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