At its core, the ESP32 chip is not much more than an integrated circuit, a huge mass of transistors sealed inside an epoxy resin package with some leads. Of course, most of us won’t buy discrete ESP32 chips with no support circuitry since it’s typically easier and often not that much more expensive to get them paired with development boards of some type for easy access to things like USB and GPIO. But these tiny chips need little in the way of support to get up and running as [Paul] demonstrates with this tiny ESP32 board.
The project started as a challenge for [Paul] to build the smallest ESP32 that would still function. That means carving away nearly everything normally found accompanying one of these chips. There is no charging circuitry, only one of the GPIO pins is accessible, and it even foregoes the WiFi antennas which eliminates the major reason most people would reach for this chip in the first place. But at this form factor even without wireless capabilities it still blows other chips of this stature, like the ATtiny series, out of the water.
Even though [Paul] built it as a challenge, it goes a long way to demonstrate what’s really needed to get one of these chips up and running properly. And plenty of projects don’t need a ton of I/O or Wi-Fi either, so presuming these individual chips can be found cheaply and boards produced for various projects its an excellent way to minimize size and perhaps even power requirements. You can make these boards even smaller than a USB-A connector if you want to take this process even further, too.
Continue reading “How Small Can The ESP32 Get?”
While things like the Arduino platform certainly opened up the gates of microcontroller programming to a much wider audience, it can also be limiting in some ways. The Arduino IDE, for example, abstracts away plenty of the underlying machinations of the hardware, and the vast amount of libraries can contribute to this effect as well. It’s not a problem if you just need a project to get up and running, in fact, that’s one of its greatest strengths. But for understanding the underlying hardware we’d recommend taking a look at something like this video series on the STM32 platform.
The series comes to us from [Francis Stokes] of Low Byte Productions who has produced eighteen videos for working with the STM32 Cortex-M4 microcontroller. The videos start by getting a developer environment up and blinking LEDs, and then move on to using peripherals for more complex tasks. The project then moves on to more advanced topics and divides into two parts, the development of an application and also a bootloader. The bootloader begins relatively simply, and then goes on to get more and more features built into it. It eventually can validate and update firmware, and includes cryptographic signing (although [Francis] notes that you probably shouldn’t use this feature for production).
One of the primary goals for [Francis], apart from the actual coding and development, was to liven up a subject matter that is often seen as dry, which we think was accomplished quite well. A number of future videos are planned as well. But, if you’re not convinced that the STM32 platform is the correct choice for you, we did publish a feature a while back outlining a few other choices that might provide some other options to consider.
Continue reading “Blinkenlights To Bootloader: A Guide To STM32 Development”
For those looking to add wireless connectivity to embedded projects or to build IoT devices, there is perhaps no more popular module than the ESP32. A dual-core option exists for processor intensive applications, the built-in WiFi and Bluetooth simplify designs, and it has plenty of I/O, memory, and interoperability for most applications. With so much built into the chip itself, [atomic14] wondered how much support circuitry it really needed and set about building the most minimalist ESP32 development board possible.
Starting with the recommended schematic for the ESP32, the most obvious things to remove are a number of the interfacing components like the USB to UART chip and the JTAG interface. The ESP32 has USB capabilities built in, so the data lines from a USB port can be directly soldered to the chip instead of using a go-between. A 3.3V regulator eliminates the need for many of the decoupling capacitors, and the external oscillator support circuitry can also be eliminated when using the internal oscillator. The only thing [atomic14] adds that isn’t strictly necessary is an LED connected to one of the GPIO pins, but he figures the bare minimum required to show the dev board can receive and run programs is blinking an LED.
Building the circuit on a breadboard shows that this minimalist design works, but instead of building a tiny PCB to solder the ESP32 module to he attempted to build a sort of dead-bug support circuit on the back of the ESP32. This didn’t work particularly well so a tiny dev board was eventually created to host this small number of components. But with that, the ESP32 is up and running. These modules are small and compact enough that it’s actually possible to build an entire dev board setup inside a USB module for a Framework laptop, too.
Continue reading “The ESP32 Doesn’t Need Much”
Git has been a powerful tool for software development and version control since the mid ’00s, gaining widespread popularity since then. Originally built by none other than Linus Torvalds for handling Linux kernel development, it’s branched out for use with all kinds of other projects. That being said, it is not the easiest thing to learn how to use, with tons of options, abstract ideas, and non-linear workflows to keep track of. So if you’re new to the system or don’t need all of its vast swath of features, you might want to try out an alternative like Gitless.
Thanks to the fact that the original Git is open source, it’s free to modify and use as any user sees fit, and there are plenty of options available. This one aims to simplify many of the features found in the original Git, implementing a tracking system which somewhat automates commits. It also includes a simplified branching system, making it easier to switch between branches and keep better track of all that’s happening in a project. The command line interface is simplified as well, and the entire system is backwards-compatible with Git which means that if you find yourself needing some of the more advanced tools it’s possible to switch between them with relative ease.
For those of us keeping track of our own software projects, who don’t necessarily need the full feature set that the original Git has to offer, this could be a powerful tool that decreases the steep learning curve that Git is known for. It’s definitely a system work diving into, though, regardless of whichever implementation you choose. It’s an effective tool for everything from complex, professional projects to small hobby projects on the Arduino.
Over Apple’s decades-long history, they have been quick to adapt to new processor technology when they see an opportunity. Their switch from PowerPC to Intel in the early 2000s made Apple machines more accessible to the wider PC world who was already accustomed to using x86 processors, and a decade earlier they moved from Motorola 68000 processors to take advantage of the scalability, power-per-watt, and performance of the PowerPC platform. They’ve recently made the switch to their own in-house silicon, but, as reported by [The Chip Letter], this wasn’t the first time they attempted to design their own chips from the ground up rather than using chips from other companies like Motorola or Intel.
In the mid 1980s, Apple was already looking to move away from the Motorola 68000 for performance reasons, and part of the reason it took so long to make the switch is that in the intervening years they launched Project Aquarius to attempt to design their own silicon. As the article linked above explains, they needed a large amount of computing power to get this done and purchased a Cray X-MP/48 supercomputer to help, as well as assigning a large number of engineers and designers to see the project through to the finish. A critical error was made, though, when they decided to build their design around a stack architecture rather than a RISC. Eventually they switched to a RISC design, though, but the project still had struggled to ever get a prototype working. Eventually the entire project was scrapped and the company eventually moved on to PowerPC, but not without a tremendous loss of time and money.
Interestingly enough, another team were designing their own architecture at about the same time and ended up creating what would eventually become the modern day ARM architecture, which Apple was involved with and currently licenses to build their M1 and M2 chips as well as their mobile processors. It was only by accident that Apple didn’t decide on a RISC design in time for their personal computers. The computing world might look a lot different today if Apple hadn’t languished in the early 00s as the ultimate result of their failure to develop a competitive system in the mid 80s. Apple’s distance from PowerPC now doesn’t mean that architecture has been completely abandoned, though.
Thanks to [Stephen] for the tip!
Arduino have released the latest version of their Integrated Development Environment (IDE), Version 2.0 and it is a big step up from the previous release, boasting plenty of new features to help you to develop your code more easily.
As the de-facto way for beginners to get into programming hardware, more experienced users have sometimes complained about what they see as the over-simplistic IDE — even lacking relatively basic features such as autocomplete. The new version provides this, and much more besides. Continue reading “Arduino IDE 2.0 Is Here”
With the widespread adoption of emulators, almost anyone can start playing video games from bygone eras. Some systems are even capable of supporting homebrew games, with several having active communities that are still creating new games even decades later. This ease of programming for non-PC platforms wasn’t always so easy, though. If you wanted to develop games on a now-antique console when it was still relatively new, you had to jump through a lot of hoops. [Tore] shows us how it would have been done with his Sega Mega Drive development kit that he built from scratch.
While [Tore] had an Atari ST, he wanted to do something a little more cutting edge and at the time there was nothing better than the Mega Drive (or the Genesis as it was known in North America). It had a number of features that lent the platform to development, namely the Motorola 68000 chip that was very common for the time and as a result had plenty of documentation available. He still needed to do quite a bit of reverse engineering of the system to get a proper dev board running, though, starting with figuring out how the cartridge system worked. He was able to build a memory bank that functioned as a re-writable game cartridge.
With the hard parts out of the way [Tore] set about building the glue logic, the startup firmware which interfaced with his Atari ST, and then of course wiring it all together. He was eventually able to get far enough along to send programs to the Mega Drive that would allow him to control sprites on a screen with the controller, but unfortunately he was interrupted before he could develop any complete games. The amount of research and work to get this far is incredible, though, and there may be some helpful nuggets for anyone in the homebrew Mega Drive community today. If you don’t want to get this deep into the Mega Drive hardware, though, you can build a cartridge that allows for development on native Sega hardware instead.