Small microcontrollers can pack quite a punch. With the right code optimizations and proper use of the available limited memory, even small microcontrollers can do things they were never intended to. Even within the realm of intended use, however, there are still lots of impressive uses for these tiny cheap processors like [Lukasz]’s audio amplifier which uses one of the smallest ATtiny packages around in the video embedded below.
Since the ATtiny is small, the amplifier is only capable of 8-bit resolution but thanks to internal clock settings and the fast PWM mode he can get a sampling rate of 37.5 kHz. Most commercial amplifiers shoot for 42 kHz or higher, so this is actually quite close for the limited hardware. The fact that it is a class D amplifier also helps, since it relies on switching and filtering to achieve amplification. This allows the amplifier to have a greater efficiency than an analog amplifier, with less need for heat sinks or oversized components.
All of the code that [Lukasz] used is available on the project site if you’ve ever been curious about switching amplifiers. He built this more as a curiosity in order to see what kind of quality he could get out of such a small microcontroller. It sounds pretty good to us too! If you’re more into analog amplifiers, though, we have you covered there as well.
Continue reading “Tiny Amplifier With ATtiny”
Arduinos are a handy tool to have around. They’re versatile, cheap, easy to program, and have a ton of software libraries to build on. They’ve only been around for about a decade and a half though, so if you were living in 1989 and wanted to program a microcontroller you’d probably be stuck with an 8-bit microprocessor with no built-in peripherals to help, reading from a physical book about registers and timing, and probably trying to get a broken ribbon cable to behave so it would actually power up. If you want a less frustrating alternate history to live in, though, check out the latest project from [Marek].
He discovered some 6502 chips (Polish language, Google Translate link) that a Chinese manufacturer was selling, but didn’t really trust that they were legitimate. On a lark he ordered some and upon testing them he found out that they were real 6502s. Building an 8-bit computer is something he’d like to do, but in the meantime he decided to do a project using one of these chips as a general-purpose microcontroller similar to a modern Arduino. The project has similar specs as an Arduino too, including 8kB of RAM memory, 8kB of I/O address space, and various EPROM capabilities. [Marek] went on to build a shield board for it as well, for easy access to some switches and LEDs. It’s a great build that anyone interested in microcontrollers should check out.
Keep in mind that an ATtiny45 has 8 bits like the 6502 but only costs around $1 USD, whereas a 6502 would have cost around $200 in today’s dollars. It’s really only in modern times that we can appreciate the 6502 as a cheap 8-bit microcontroller for that reason alone, but we can also appreciate how it ushered in a computer revolution since competing Intel and Motorola chips cost around six times more before it showed up. They became so popular in fact that people still regularly use them to build retrocomputers of all kinds.
RISC architecture is gonna change everything, and I still can’t tell if we like that movie ironically or not. Nevertheless, RISC-V chips are coming onto the market, chipmakers seem really interested in not paying licensing fees, and new hard drives are shipping with RISC-V cores. The latest development in Open instruction sets chips comes from OpenISA. They’ve developed the VEGAboard, a dev board with two RISC-V chips and Arduino-style pin headers.
The VEGAboard comes loaded with an NXP chip which combines an ARM Cortex-M0 and Cortex-M4. So far, so good, but there are already dozens of boards that combine two ARM microcontrollers on a single development platform. The real trick is the RI5CY and Zero-RI5CY chips on the VEGAboard, a 4-stage RISC-V RV32IMCCXpulp CPU. This comes from the PULP platform, meant to be a small, low-power, but parallel platform for various processing needs. In short, with the VEGAboard, you’re not running a blink() sketch on the RISC-V microcontroller. You run the blink() sketch on the ARM microcontrollers, while using the RISC-V chip to read accelerometers and toggle pins. It’s a coprocessor, but it’s RISC-V.
Other features of the VEGAboard include 4MB of Flash, a light sensor, accelerometer, magnetometer, an RGB LED, OpenSDA serial debug adapter, an on-board BLE radio, and of course those wonky Arduino pin headers.
There are, or were, free VEGAboards available, but those are long gone. It’s still an interesting platform, though, and if you’d like to get your hands on one, production will resume shortly. Of course, if you need RISC-V right now, there are actual RISC-V Arduinos, a RISC-V with built-in neural networks, and SiFive will soon have a Linux-capable RISC-V multicore board. These are exciting times, and every day we’re seeing how RISC architecture is gonna change everything.
The Internet of Things is eating everything alive, and the world wants to know: how do you make a small, battery-powered, WiFi-enabled microcontroller device? This is a surprisingly difficult problem. WiFi is not optimized for low-power operations. It’s power-hungry, and there’s a lot of overhead. That said, there are microcontrollers out there with WiFi capability, but how do they hold up to running off of a battery for days, or weeks? That’s what [TvE] is exploring in a fantastic multi-part series of posts delving into low-power WiFi microcontrollers.
The idea for these experiments is set up in the first post in the series. Basically, the goal is to measure how long the ESP8266 and ESP32 will run on a battery, using various sleep modes. Both the ESP8266 and ESP32 have deep-sleep modes, a ‘sleep’ mode where the state is preserved, a ‘CPU only’ mode that turns the RF off, and various measures for sending and receiving a packet.
The takeaway from these experiments is that a battery-powered ESP8266 can’t be used for more than a week without a seriously beefy battery or a solar panel. Run times are much longer with an open network as compared to a secured network, and that security eats up a ton of power: connecting to a secure network every now and again means your ESP might only run for a day, instead of a week.
There is another option, though: the ESP32. While the ’32 is vastly more powerful and more capable than the ESP8266, it also has a few improved features that help with power consumption. Importantly, there’s a bug in the ESP8266 where it drops into modem sleep instead of light sleep about half the time. This error was fixed in the ESP32, but all that power does come at a cost. On the whole, if you’re concerned about security, the ESP32 is slightly better, simply because it does the ‘security’ part of connecting to a WiFi network faster. This is really a remarkable amount of testing that’s gone into this write-up, so if you’re developing something battery-powered with any ESP, it’s well worth the read.
It used to be that Web browsing was simple. You asked a server for some text, which was duly sent, and then formatted by your browser. Now a web page is as likely to be a full-blown application that is reading mail, editing text, or lots of other things and may use WebSockets to create a back channel to the server. Thanks to affordable hardware like the ESP8266 one of those things a modern web browser can do is sense and control the real world. [Acrobotic] has an interesting video about using WebSockets to allow a browser to talk to an ESP8266 web server in real time. You can see his simple demo in the video below.
Continue reading “WebSockets Embedded With The ESP8266”
Every month, semiconductor manufacturers across the globe retire old devices. A product that has been superseded, isn’t selling well, or maybe whose application has declined, is removed from the catalogue and ceases to be manufactured. Usually these moments pass unnoticed, just one old device among many. Who is going to remark upon the demise of a chip for a VGA card for example, or a long-ago-left-behind Flash memory chip?
One has come to our attention that is pretty unremarkable, but that could concern some of our readers. NXP have stopped manufacturing the LPC810M021FN8. What on earth is an LPC810M021FN8, you ask, the answer being that it appears to have been the last microcontroller with an ARM core available in a DIP package. Even that in itself is hardly earth-shattering, for if you really must use an ARM core rather than any of the myriad 8, 16, or 32 bit microcontrollers still available you can always get a DIP breakout board for a small surface mount chip.
This turn of events comes as a reminder that, while breadboard-friendly and popular among a section of our community, DIP packages are now particularly old-school. Other once-popular devices such as the LPC1114 have also long-since ceased to be available in this format, and we have to wonder how long we will be able to take advantage of DIP packages for some of the other microcontroller families.
A few years ago this news might have come as something of a disaster, but it now has more of a sense of the passing of a bygone era. It’s normal to use microcontroller dev boards in a larger DIP format for prototyping, so maybe getting used to a bit of surface-mount soldering on a break-out board will be only for the truly hard-core when the last DIP package has been retired. Other than that of course, the 555 is still available in a DIP8, and you can make anything with one of them!
If you didn’t have a chance to take the 810 for a test drive, the usual suppliers still list it in stock, Adafruit have a starter pack for it, and it will no doubt be possible to find it in small quantities for years to come.
[Thanks Tod E. Kurt for the tip]
There are so many different CPUs today and often the hardest thing about using any of them is getting started and gathering the right software tools. If you’ve ever eyed up the very inexpensive STM8 processor, you’ll want to check out [Shane Burrell’s] video (see below) about how to get started with the STM8.
The STM8 isn’t a 32-bit processor — you could probably guess that from the name. [Shane] uses SDCC (small device C compiler) to target the little chip. He also shows how he manages a fairly substantial piece of code and how he controls the build process.
Continue reading “Getting Started with STM8”