An Education on SoC using Verilog

[Bruce Land] is one of those rare individuals who has his own Hackaday tag. He and his students at Cornell have produced many projects over the years that have appeared on these pages, lately with FPGA-related projects. If you only know [Land] from projects, you are missing out. He posts lectures from many of his classes and recently added a series of new lectures about developing with a DE1 System on Chip (SoC) using an Altera Cyclone FPGA using Verilog. You can catch the ten lectures on YouTube.

The class material is different for 2017, so the content is fresh and relevant. The DE1-SOC has a dual ARM processor and boots Linux from an SD card. There are several labs and quite a bit of background material. The first lab involves driving a VGA monitor. Another is a hardware solver for ordinary differential equations.

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Rusty ARM

You’ve probably heard that Rust is a systems programming language that has quite the following growing. It purports to be fast like C, but has features like guaranteed memory and thread safety, generics, and it prevents segmentation faults. Sounds like just the thing for an embedded system, right? [Jorge Aparicio] was frustrated because his CPU of choice, an STM32 ARM Cortex-M didn’t have native support for Rust.

Apparently, you can easily bind C functions into a Rust program but that wasn’t what he was after. So he set out to build pure Rust programs that could access the device’s hardware and he documented the effort.

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STM32 Analog Converter Phase Noise

[Avian] has been using STM32 ARM processors to sample RF for a variety of applications. At first, he was receiving relatively wide TV signals. Recently, though, he’s started dealing with very narrow signals and he found that his samples had a lot of spread in the frequency domain that he didn’t expect.

What followed was some detective work that resulted in a determination that phase noise was the culprit. But why? [Avian] took some measurements and noticed that the phase noise almost exactly matched the phase noise specification for the STM32’s phase locked loop (PLL).

Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be a good way to avoid using the PLL without major changes to the rest of the circuit. However, it was quite the learning experience and something to be aware of when counting on built-in converters for high-accuracy measurements.

One of the best things about this post is the references to more information. There’s a great explanation of phase noise, as well as a specific application note about clock jitter and analog converters.

We’ve talked about phase noise in direct digital synthesis a few times. But usually, it is pretty obvious like when you are asking a CPU to double as an RF transmitter. [Avian’s] post was a bit more of a detective story.

New Part Day: The $239 Pi Clone

Linaro has announced a new ARM-based single board computer.

The HiKey 960, built in collaboration with 96Boards, gives the user 4 ARM Cortex-A73 cores clocked at 2.4GHz, 4 ARM Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.8 GHz, a Mali GPU (ugh), 32GB of Flash storage, 3GB of LPDDR4, HDMI 1.2, WiFi, Bluetooth, USB 3.0 type A, PCIe on an M.2 connector, and a familiar 40-pin GPIO connector whose configuration is not published yet but is one we can make a very educated guess about. This is a powerful ARM-based single-board computer that’s the same size as a credit card.

This single board computer draws more power than a Raspberry Pi (but less than 24 W with a 12V supply), but that’s what you get when you need a powerful ARM chip. Interestingly, the HiKey 960 places all the connectors on one side of the board. This is a feature very often overlooked in ARM-based single board computers; all the ports on your desktop are on the back, and it only makes sense to constrain the cables and dongles to one side of a Nintendo-shaped 3D printed enclosure.

This is not the first ARM-based single board computer that markets itself as a more powerful Pi. The Pine64 was supposed to be significantly more powerful, handle 4K HDMI, and bring Android to the desktop. The first versions of the Pine64 really, really sucked. However, most of the kinks have been worked out and the folks behind the Pine64 are now shipping a somewhat reasonable low-end Chromebookesque laptop for $89. This is a laptop for under a Benjamin, whereas the HiKey 960 will sell for $239. That’s the same price as an Intel NUC or other mini PC running an x86 CPU. Of course, the HiKey 960 will have higher performance compared to the latest Pi, or other Pi Killer such as the Asus Tinker board, but there must be a point of diminishing returns. Either way, we look forward to getting our hands on one of these powerful single board computers.

PogoPlug Hacking: A Step by Step Guide to Owning The Device

[Films By Kris Hardware] has started quite an interesting YouTube series on hacking and owning a PogoPlug Mobile v4. While this has been done many times in the past, he gives a great step by step tutorial. The series so far is quite impressive, going into great detail on how to gain root access to the device through serial a serial connection.

PogoPlugs are remote-access devices sporting ARM processor running at 800 MHz, which is supported by the Linux Kernel.  The version in question (PogoPlug Mobile v4) have been re-purposed in the past for things like an inexpensive PBX, an OpenWrt router and even a squeezebox replacement. Even if you don’t have a PogoPlug, this could be a great introduction to hacking any Linux-based consumer device.

So far, we’re at part three of what will be an eight-part series, so there’s going to be more to learn if you follow along. His videos have already covered how to connect via a serial port to the device, how to send commands, set the device up, and stop it calling home. This will enable the budding hacker to make the PogoPlug do their bidding. In this age of the cheap single-board Linux computer, hacking this type of device may be going out of style, but the skills you learn here probably won’t any time soon.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: DIY ARM Scientific Calculator

What does a hacker do when he or she wants something but can’t afford it? They hack one together, of course. Or, in the case of [Ramón Calvo], they thoughtfully plan and prototype. [Ramón Calvo] wanted a scientific calculator, but couldn’t afford one, so he designed and built one himself.

[Ramón] started off with Arduino but upgraded initially to Freescale’s Freedom KL25Z development board upgraded to an ARM Cortex-M0+ programmed using mbed. The display is an Electronic Assembly DOGL-128 128×64 pixel LCD. [Ramón] did a couple of iterations on the PCB, going from a large DIY one in order for the Arduino version to work, to the current, smaller version for the ARM chip with hand soldered SMD components. After that, [Ramón] looked into the algorithms needed to parse mathematical input. He settled on the shunting-yard algorithm, which converts the input into Reverse Polish Notation (RPN), which is easier for the software to work with.

[Ramón] has a ton of features working, including your standard add, subtract, multiply and divide operations, square root, nth root and exponentiation, trigonometry, log and log10, and factorial(!) There are a few things still on the to-do list, such as low power and a graphing mode, and there are a couple of bugs still in the system, but the overall system is up and running. [Ramón] has put up the schematic and KiCAD files up on his Hackaday.io project page along with the bill of materials.

We’ve had a few Hackaday prize entries in the form of calculators, such as this one with Nixie tubes and this one that emulates 70’s HP calculators.

Hackaday.io User Reviews Six STM32 IDEs

One of the issues with getting started with any Arm-based project is picking a toolset. Some of us here just use the command line with our favorite editor, but we know that doesn’t suit many people–they want a modern IDE. But which one to choose? User [Wassim] faced this problem, evaluated six different options for STM32 and was kind enough to document his findings over on Hackaday.io.

Many of the tools are Windows-only and at least two of them are not totally free, but it is still a good list with some great observations. Of course, the choice of an IDE is a highly personal thing, but just having a good list is a great start.

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