ARMing a Breadboard — Everyone Should Program an ARM

I’m always a little surprised that we don’t see more ARM-based projects. Of course, we do see some, but the volume isn’t what I’d expect given that low-level ARM chips are cheap, capable, low power, and readily available. Having a 32-bit processor with lots of memory running at 40 or 50 MIPS is a game changer compared to, say, a traditional Arduino (and, yes, the Arduino Due and Zero are ARM-based, so you can still stay with Arduino, if that’s what you want).

A few things might inhibit an Arduino, AVR, or PIC user from making the leap. For one thing, most ARM chips use 3.3V I/O instead of the traditional 5V levels (there are exceptions, like the Kinetis E). There was a time when the toolchain was difficult to set up, although this is largely not a problem anymore. But perhaps the largest hurdle is that most of the chips are surface mount devices.

Of course, builders today are getting pretty used to surface mount devices and you can also get evaluation boards pretty cheaply, too. But in some situations–for example, in classrooms–it is very attractive to have a chip that is directly mountable on a common breadboard. Even if you don’t mind using a development board, you may want to use the IC directly in a final version of a project and some people still prefer working with through hole components.

The 28 Pin Solution

One solution that addresses most, if not all, of these concerns is the LPC1114FN28 processor. Unlike most other ARM processors, this one comes in a 28 pin DIP package and works great on a breadboard. It does require 3.3V, but it is 5V tolerant on digital inputs (and, of course, a 3.3V output is usually fine for driving a 5V input). The chip will work with mbed or other ARM tools and after prototyping, you can always move to a surface mount device for production, if you like. Even if you are buying just one, you should be able to find the device for under $6.

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Vintage Computer Fest: Berlin 2015

Berlin was a good city to be a geek in last weekend. Alongside the Berlin Maker Faire, there was the 2015 meeting of the Vintage Computing Festival: Berlin (VCFB). Each VCFB has a special theme, and this year it was analogue computers, but there was no lack of old computers large and small, teletext machines, vintage video game consoles, and general nerdy nostalgia.

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Controlling Guitar Amps With Servos

[fichl] plays electric guitar, and with that hobby comes an incredible amount of knob twisting and dial turning. This comes at a cost; he can’t change the settings on his small amp without taking his hands off the guitar. While larger, more expensive amps have multiple channels and footswitches, this tiny amp does not. Instead of upgrading, [fichl] came up with a device that turns his single channel amp into a completely programmable one, with just an Arduino and a handful of servos.

The amp in question – an Orange Dark Terror head – has just three knobs on the front of the chassis, volume, shape, and gain. [fichl] had the idea of controlling these knobs electronically, and the simplest solution he came up with is cheap hobby servos. These servos are mounted in an aluminum box, and mount to the knobs with a few shaft couplings.

The footswitch is the brains of the setup, with three buttons, four LEDs, and a DIN-5 output jack that delivers power, ground, and three PWM signals to the servo box. With the help of an Arduino Nano, [fichl] can change any of the knobs independently, or switch between twelve programmed settings. It’s an interesting setup, and something that could serve as a prototype for a much larger system on a much larger amp.