The Firebird32, A New Dev Board On The Block

Here is yet another development board to add to your list (If you are into keeping lists), introducing the Firebird32. There seems to be no end to the production of new development boards, following the current style the Firebird32 comes in the familiar Arduino form factor to fit all of your Arduino shields.

The Firebird32 from [Wytec] is build around the 32bit Freescale Flexis MCU [MCF51JM128] running the Coldfire V1 core commonly found in industrial and medical equipment. We were kindly donated a board before release, the first thing that we noticed was  the onboard 8×2 segment LCD which makes the perfect debuging tool. The board along with fitting standard Arduino shields has extra input headers for a keypad, an accelerometer and an extra communication header (IC2/SPI/SCI). It’s also sporting 8 x 12bit analogue inputs, external 32k EEPROM, an RGB LED, a buzzer and an extra push button. The Flexis chip along with the beefy 32bit processor can run at a clock rate up to 48Mhz using PLL and has an integrated USB port, all of this for under $30.

So the hardware seems nice and you can plug your Arduino shields right in, but (you knew it was coming right) it is not yet compatible with Arduino sketches or code. Currently for beginners the Firebird32 is supplied with the StickOS BASIC bootloader, it seems like a very high level programming language which may be useful to get a LED flashing but we not totally convinced on it utilising the chips full potential. To program in C/C++ or assembly, a USBDM programmer is required and code is compiled using the CodeWarrior IDE which offers step by step debugging which is nice, setting it up is not entirely obvious but some tutorials and source code to get you started are available.

The bottom line is that the Firebird32 is a nice looking board with some great hardware at a low cost for projects requiring some extra power, but it is not a tool for beginners. The Coldfire chipset is quite common in industrial equipment, so the board makes a perfect stepping stone for engineers who want to learn about coding embedded hardware, or migrating to the more advanced Coldfire V2/3 controllers.

35 thoughts on “The Firebird32, A New Dev Board On The Block

  1. Third! (who cares?)

    Actually, I do have a comment – it sucks that everyone is bowing to the popularity of the Arduino and it’s shields by using their non-standard header pin spacing.

    1. It might suck, but disruption of existing standards is how new standards are made. When the disruption is successful, it often points to a problem with the pre-existing standard.

      Maybe not in this case – this particular case might just be annoying. ;-)

  2. Very cool. The free versions of the code-warrior C compilers look to support half (64K) of the flash memory.

    I think the stick OS in conjunction with built-in support for the ZigFlea RF transceiver is going to make a lot of quick&dirty RF projects possible.

  3. @ mjrippe: No, that doesn’t suck. It means that every dev board that has that spacing immediately has a ton of nearly plug-and-play hardware available.

    What sucks is that the stupid Arduino guys didn’t proof their first run of boards before sending them off to the factory, so now we have to live with the BS pin spacing.

    Lesson: Always proof your boards.

  4. Our school teaches a few courses with old MC68000 Coldfire boards. Those courses will be using ARM Cortex-M3 based dev-boards now.

    After playing with both (in C/C++ and assembly), I don’t see how Coldfire has any advantage over ARM. Can somebody enlighten me?

    And I agree with mjrippe’s comment above.

  5. It’s somehow good to see a new manufacturer promote their micros like this.

    @Bob D my guess is that the headers were made like that intentionally so that people would buy a shield instead of a normal prototype board with holes.

    Let’s guess, which manufacturer will make the next arduino form factor board? My guess: NXP.

  6. I dunno. Bunch of development boards with “non-standard” Arduino-style pinout, vs bunch of development boards each with their own non-standard pinouts… You don’t see many development boards designed to play well with protoboards; the form factor is too limiting.

    68k is a “pretty” architecture between RISC and CISC, and is well supported by gcc/etc. The flexis cpu always seemed like a candidate for arduino-style board with native USB support.

  7. Just for clarification, the board is $21.90 and does not come with the lcd. That’s another $9.90. Still, it looks like a cool board and cheaper than the arduino!

  8. That’s nice, but I’m still waiting for a externally-bussed dev board. Onboard (off chip) NAND & RAM would be fine, but being able to prototype an expandable system on an arduino-form board would make my year.

  9. Could you clarify a bit on the programming part? Does it require an external programming unit if I want to write “native” programs for it? Or is it humanly possible to load a new firmware onto it over the USB connection?

  10. @WestfW – Well, in an ideal world everyone would use the .01 standard, not several proprietary ones but you are probably correct. Just as there are dozens of cell phone charger connectors, there could be dozens of dev board header standards. I respectfully withdraw my comment ;-)

  11. I hadn’t really looked into Freescale’s selection of chips until now. I’m surprised by the lack of beginner materials, both from the company, and the community. Maybe I’m just not searching very hard, but you look at Atmel, Microchip, TI, etc, and for most of them you can find a ton of info from a casual search.

    Also, as Frank asked, what’s the advantage, if any, of Coldfire over ARM?

  12. Okay, by default it has some BASIC support accessible via serial console, but… BASIC on a 32bit MCU? Really?

    TBH, I’m not really sure what the advantages of the Coldfire are over ARM, if any. As a 32bit Arduino-like platform, I think the USB-programmable STM32-based Leaflabs Maple wins, hands down. (And the Leaflabs software now works with the $12 STM32 Discovery board, possibly making that the best price-vs-power value MCU combination for the hobbyist right now.)

    That said, I’m glad to see them aping the Arduino Micro and Nano form factors, even though there’s zero pin compatibility. For a while now, if you’ve needed a *truly* small microcontroller dev board with USB, your choices have been the Arduinos, the LPCXpresso and clones, or some little ATMega32/AT90USB boards. The more the merrier at that form factor, I say…

  13. Same here, Dormant Labs. I’m not an electrical engineer, but I like to think I can recognize an LCD display when I see one, and on that board I don’t see one. Maybe it’s on the other side for some reason? That would be an odd place to put it, to say the least, but I can’t imagine where else it’d be.

  14. “Bunch of development boards with “non-standard” Arduino-style pinout, vs bunch of development boards each with their own non-standard pinouts… You don’t see many development boards designed to play well with protoboards; the form factor is too limiting.”

    Why is “non-standard” in quotes? THE standard is .1″ and there’s no good reason (other than marketing – bleochk!!) why Arduino shouldn’t be able to fit ready-made shields AND truly DIY shields made from simple proto boards folks feel like dreaming up. It’s Arduino’s Achilles Heel, Fatal Flaw and whatever you want to call it. I call it Stupid Goofy. It caught on DESPITE that f&@# up, not because it gave it some kind of edge. I don’t care what the originators give for an excuse, respected as they deserve to be, it was idiotic to make that spacing. Otherwise it would now be a clever design instead of a popular phenomenon with a fat white elephant dangling from it.

    Oh well. There are Arduino-compatible boards out there with .1″ spacing. Just too bad the shields being made won’t fit them. It’s limiting. Maybe THAT is why they did it.

  15. @compukidmike – It is only $21.90 as an intro price. The regular price is $5 more at $26.90.

    @Aaron & @GeneralSpecific – The LCD isn’t actually shown in the picture. Go to the Firebird32 link and its shown on the pictures there. It is an optional plug in 8×2 LCD display module.

  16. If you ever design something to be arduino shield compatible, just make one of the header two rows next to each other and connect them to the same pins. Then you can fit a shield and a protoboard.

  17. Just a comment of the ‘non standard’ Arduino pin spacing.

    There was some fore-thought about it, you can’t plug it in BACKWARDS because of the spacing.

    Standard pin spacing would allow it to plug in either way.

    It seemed obvious to me.

  18. Digitalundernet: Various eBay vendors sell an STM32F103RBT6 board, complete with a mating 2.8″ touch-screen TFT, for $35-40, sometimes as low as $20. I have… several. :) There’s also a slightly pricier version with a little bit higher-spec chip (the -VCT6, with more flash and RAM) and a smaller LCD screen.

    Also, if you can still find one (you’ll have to hunt a bit), the Raisonance STM32 Primer 2 is a truly awesome little everything-in-one dev platform.

  19. I am not a fan of freescale and how they handle the hobbyist community. The information for developing is like pulling teeth and they seem to not want to respond unless you are buying 100K QTy chips.

    As for development boards, once you are competent in what you are doing, forget about them. You are better buying chips, attaching a clock crystal and building your own boards.
    $1 for a perfboard
    $2 for a decent micro
    $1 for a clock crystal.

  20. So, all told, if you throw in the LCD and the USBDM* you’re talking about 40 bucks. So, I ask the experienced embedded folks here, is it worth it? I’ve heard Coldfire is not a bad thing to know.

    Is that just a low/high voltage ICP programmer or something more sophisticated?

  21. Is this really Wytec that makes this? Some of the pages indicate EVBPlus, but they don’t note it on the main EVBPlus site at all.

    Wytec is obsessed with Freescale. That’s not a bad thing. I have a few Wytec boards, but I sometimes wonder why they are so dedicated to the brand when they could focus on other architectures as well. If you look on one of the Firebrd pages, you can see that they clearly have the goal of keeping Freescale in educational environments. I think that Freescale is losing a lot of traction, and this product appears to be Wytec’s way of trying to keep its products in schools since people are moving on beyond the 68HC11 and HCS12.

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