Driving 1000 NeoPixels With 1k Of Arduino RAM


NeoPixels, or WS2812 RGB LEDs, are the display device du jour for impressive and blinding lighting projects. Commonly known for very tight timing requirements, [Josh] discovered this is, in fact, usually unnecessary. The timing requirements for NeoPixels aren’t as bad as they seem, once you get to know them.

The official WS2812 timing specs give values that are fairly constraining for anyone writing a library to drive these RGB LED pixels, but simplifying the timing diagram by assuming a 50% duty cycle on the data lines and ignoring the longer maximum times results in a surprising conclusion: the only tight timing parameter for NeoPixel signaling is the maximum width of the 0-bit pulse.

Realizing this, [Josh] wrote a simple demo program to drive over 1000 NeoPixels – an 11 meter long strip – using 1K of RAM on an Arduino. The trick comes by simply delaying the bitbanging a set number of cycles. No obtuse assembly required.

There is only one problem with [Josh]’s method of driving a nearly unlimited amount of NeoPixels – building a display where every NeoPixel is an element in a larger image, such as in a video display, is impossible on systems with limited amounts of RAM. The code¬†writes values to the NeoPixel strip algorithmically, so if you can’t build your animation with for loops, you’re out of luck. Still, Driving this many NeoPixels is a migraine trigger, and we have to give [Josh] credit for doing this with 1K of RAM.

Check out the video of [Josh]’s extreme NeoPixel strip below.

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