The BGA chip in question flipped onto a piecce of breadboard, all its pins broken out with magnet wire.

Heroic Efforts Give Smallest ARM MCU A Breakout, Open Debugger

In today’s episode of Diminutive Device Technology Overview, [Sprite_TM] is at it again – this time conquering the HC32L110. A few weeks ago, we have highlighted the small ARM Cortex M0+ microcontroller, which is outstanding because of its exceptionally small size. We also pointed out a few hurdles, among them – hard-to-approach SDK and documentation, and difficulties making and assembling a PCB for such a small BGA. Today, we witness how [Sprite_TM] bulldozed through all of these hurdles for all of us, and added a few pictures to our collective “outrageous soldering” galleries while at it.

First, he figured out an example layout for this MCU that’s achievable for us even on a cheapest 2-layer board from JLCPCB, keeping distances within the generic tolerance standards by snubbing out a few pins. As a result, we only lose access to four GPIOs – those will have to be kept as inputs, so that nothing burns out. However, that’s the kind of tradeoff we are okay making if it helps us keep our PCB small and lightweight for projects where these factors matter. After receiving the resulting board, he also recorded a short tutorial on soldering such packages at home with a mere hot air gun and a few bare necessities like flux and tweezers – embedded below.

It doesn’t end there, however, as he decided to work around the GPIO fanout limitation in a non-intended way. Evidently, [Sprite_TM] decided to have some fun, taking a piece of regular 0.1″ spacing protoboard and deadbugging the chip with magnet wire, much to our amusement. The resulting contraption, pictured above, worked – and this is ever something you’d like to be able to achieve yourself in times of dire need, whether you make something work or simply to be entertained by making use of a cursed mounting technique, there’s an one-hour-long livestream recording of how this magnet wire contraption came to be. And, of course, that wasn’t the last thing to be shared.

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The teeny tiny MCU mentioned in the article, merely a blimp on a giant devboard

New Part Day: Smallest ARM MCU Uproots Competition, Needs Research

We’ve been contacted by [Cedric], telling us about the smallest ARM MCU he’s ever seen – Huada HC32L110. For those of us into miniature products, this Cortex-M0+ package packs a punch (PDF datasheet), with low-power, high capabilities and rich peripherals packed into an 1.6mm x 1.4mm piece of solderable silicon.

This is matchstick head scale computing, with way more power than we previously could access at such a scale, waiting to be wrangled. Compared to an 8-bit ATTiny20 also available in WLCSP package, this is a notable increase in specs, with a way more powerful CPU, 16 times as much RAM and 8-16 times the flash! Not to mention that it’s $1 a piece in QTY1, which is about what an ATTiny20 goes for. Being a 0.35mm pitch 16-pin BGA, your typical board house might not be quite happy with you, but once you get a board fabbed and delivered from a fab worth their salt, a bit of stenciling and reflow will get you to a devboard in no time.

Drawbacks? No English datasheet or Arduino port, and the 67-page PDF we found doesn’t have some things like register mappings. LILYGO promised that they will start selling the devboards soon, but we’re sure it wouldn’t be hard for us to develop our own. From there, we’d hope for an ESP8266-like effect – missing information pieced together, translated and made accessible, bit by bit.

When it comes to soldering such small packages, we highly recommend reflow. However, if you decide to go the magnet wire route, we wouldn’t dare object – just make sure to send us pictures. After all, seems like miniature microcontrollers like ATTiny20 are attractive enough of a proposition that people will pick the craziest route possible just to play with one. They say, the madness of the brave is the wisdom of life.

We thank [Cedric] for sharing this with us!

Arm Researchers Announce The PlasticArm

If the Cortex family of embedded microprocessors aren’t flexible enough for your designs, an article published this week (click here for the PDF version) in the journal Nature might be of interest. We’re not talking flexibility in terms of features, but real, physical flexibility of the microprocessor itself. A research team from Arm Ltd. has developed the PlasticArm, which is a 32-bit processor derived from the Cortex-M0+ family.

They accomplished this by constructing a CPU from metal-oxide thin-film transistors (TFT) on a polyimide substrate, the resultant chip being called a natively flexible microprocessor. While much of the hype focuses on the flexibility aspect, we think the real innovation here is the low cost. The processes used to deposit transistors onto silicon wafers is much more expensive than those on this flexible substrate.

Don’t get too excited just yet, because there were some compromises made along the way. Modern microprocessor silicon dies are measured in the tens of microns, but the PlasticArm total die size is a comparatively whopping 9 mm square. The researchers were appropriately focused on the core CPU, and the auxiliary building blocks such as ROM and RAM seem almost an afterthought. With only 456 bytes of program store and 128 bytes of RAM, only the tiniest of applications are suited to this chip. Other compromises were made, such as no internal registers — they are mapped to the external RAM — and the CPU runs a lot slower than we’re used to, topping out at 29 kHz (note: k not M).

There are certainly some challenges with this new technology, and we won’t be designing with these chips any time soon. But it has the potential to offer benefits in certain niche applications where low-cost and/or flexibility is more important than processor speed and performance.


The Most Minimal WS2812B Driver

Whether you call them individually controllable RGB LEDs, WS2812, or NeoPixels, there’s no denying they are extremely popular and a staple of every glowey and blinkey project. Fresh off the reel, they’re nearly useless – you need a controller, and that has led to many people coming up with many different solutions to the same problem. Here’s another solution, notable because it’s the most minimal WS2812 driver we’ve ever seen.

The critical component in this build is NXP’s LPC810, an ARM Cortex M0+ in an 8-pin DIP package. Yes, it’s the only ARM in a DIP-8, but still able to run at 30MHz, and hold a 4kB program.

JeeLabs is using the SPI bus on the LPC810 to clock out data at the rate required by the LEDs. The only hardware required is a small LED to drop the voltage from 5V to 3.3V and a decoupling capacitor. Yes, you could easily get away with this as a one-component build.

The build consists of a ring of sixty WS2812b RGB LEDs, and the chip dutifully clocking out bits at the correct rate. It’s the perfect start to an LED clock project, an Iron Man arc reactor (are we still doing those?), or just random blinkey LEDs stuffed into a wearable.

Thanks [Martyn] for sending this one in.