New Part Day: The Twenty Five Cent USB Microcontroller (With A Toolchain!)

Last year, Jiangsu Yuheng Co., Ltd introduced a new microcontroller. The CH554 is a microcontroller with an E8051 core with a 24 MHz clock, a little more than 1 kB of RAM, and a bit more than 14 kB split between the code and data Flash. In short, it’s nothing too spectacular, but it makes up for that with peripherals. It’s got SPI and ADCs and PWM, UARTs, and even a few capacitive touch channels. It’s also a USB device, with some chips in the series able to function as a USB host. You can buy this chip for a quarter through the usual retailers.

Normally, this isn’t huge news. The 8051 is the most copied microcontroller on the planet, and there are probably billions produced each year. Cheap parts are only cheap if your time is free; you’ll usually spend ages trying to digest the datasheet and get a toolchain up and running. That’s where this chip is a little different. There are multiple efforts to bring an Open Source toolchain to this chip. And they’re doing it in Windows and Linux. Someone really cares about this chip.

The current best option for an SDK for this chip comes from Blinkinlabs, with a port of the CH554 SDK from Keil to SDCC. There are real, working code examples for this chip using an Open Source toolchain. Sure, it might just blink a LED, but it’s there. If you can blink a LED, you can do just about anything from there. Programming the chip happens over USB with the ‘official’ WCHISPTool (Windows) or LibreCH551 (command line). The end result is a completely Open Source toolchain to program and upload a hex file to a cheap chip.

There are a few more chips in the CH554 series, ranging from the CH551 in an SOP-16 package to the CH559 in an LQFP48 package, with more features available as the chips get bigger. It’s an interesting chip, with some somehow implementing a USB hub, and could be a very cool chip for some low-level USB hacking.

New Part Day: The RISC-V Chip With Built-In Neural Networks

After exploring a few random online shops one day, [David] (thanks for sending this in, by the way) ran across a very interesting chip. It’s a dual-core, RISC-V chip running at 400MHz. There’s 6 MB of SRAM on the CPU, and there’s 2MB for convolutional neural network acceleration. There is, apparently, WiFi on some versions. There are already SDKs available on GitHub, and a bare chip costs a dollar or two. Interested? Log in to Taobao, realize Taobao does pre-orders, and all this can be yours.

This is a preorder — because apparently you can do that as a seller on TaoBao, but the Sipeed M1 K210 is available as a ‘core’ board with 72 pins in a one-inch square package, a version with WiFi, or as a complete development board with an OV2640 camera, 2.4 inch LCD, microphone, and onboard USB. There are videos of this chip running a face detection routine. It found Obama.

A bit of googling tells us this chip comes from a company named Kendryte, and here the specs are repeated: this is a dual-core RISC-V with an FPU, a bunch of RAM, and can run TensorFlow. Documentation is available, although the datasheet will need to be translated, and as of this writing there’s a GitHub filled with SDKs and examples, with some of the repos updated in the last hour.

Over the years we’ve seen a few RISC-V chips given development boards, and you can buy them right now. The HiFive 1 is an exceptionally powerful microcontroller with processing power that puts it right up against the Teensy (which is built around a Freescale chip), but it’s also fairly expensive. We’re not sure the Arduino Cinque (also RISC-V) ever made it to production, but again, expensive. The idea that a RISC-V microcontroller could be available for just a few dollars is very interesting, it even comes with SDKs and utilities to make the chip useful.

New Part Day: ATMegas With Programmable Logic

Since Microchip acquired Atmel, the fields of battle have fallen silent. The Crusaders have returned home, or have been driven into the sea. The great microcontroller holy war is over.

As with any acquisition, there is bound to be some crossover between two product lines. Both Atmel’s AVR platform and Microchip’s PICs have their adherents, and now we’re beginning to see some crossover in the weird and wonderful circuitry and design that goes into your favorite microcontroller, whatever that might be. The newest part from Microchip is an ATMega with a feature usually found in PICs. This is a Core Independent Peripheral. What is it? Well, it’s kinda like a CPLD stuck in a chip, and it’s going to be in the new Arduino board.

The ATMega4809 is the latest in a long line of ATMegas, and has the features you would usually expect as the latest 8-bit AVR. It runs at 20MHz, has 48 K of Flash, 6 K of SRAM, and comes in a 48-pin QFN and TQFP packages. So far, everything is what you would expect. What’s the new hotness? It’s a Core Independent Peripheral in the form of Configurable Custom Logic (CCL) that offloads simple tasks to hardware instead of mucking around in software.

So, what can you do with Configurable Custom Logic? There’s an application note for that. The CCL is effectively a look-up table with three inputs. These inputs can be connected to I/O pins, driven from the analog comparator, timer, UART, SPI bus, or driven from internal events. The look-up table can be configured as a three-input logic gate, and the output of the gate heads out to the rest of the microcontroller die. Basically, it’s a tiny bit of programmable glue logic. In the application note, Microchip provided an example of debouncing a switch using the CCL. It’s a simple enough example, and it’ll work, but there are a whole host of opportunities and possibilities here.

Additionally, the ATMega4809, “has been selected to be the on-board microcontroller of a next-generation Arduino board” according to the press release I received. We’re looking forward to that new hardware, and of course a few libraries that make use of this tiny bit of custom programmable logic.

New Part Day: MEMS Loudspeakers

MEMS, or Micro ElectroMechanical Systems, are the enabling technology that brings us smartphones, quadcopters, tire pressure monitors, and a million other devices we take for granted today. At its most basic level, MEMS is simply machining away silicon wafers to make not electronic parts, but electromechanical parts. The microphone in your cell phone isn’t an electret mic you would find in an old brick phone from the 80s — it’s a carefully crafted bit of silicon, packed in epoxy, and hanging off a serial bus.

Despite the incredible success of MEMS technology, there is still something in your smartphone that’s built on 19th-century technology. Loudspeakers haven’t changed ever, and the speaker in your newest iThing is still a coil of wire and some sort of cone.

Now there’s finally a MEMS loudspeaker A company called USound has developed the first loudspeaker that isn’t just a bunch of wire and a magnet. This is a speaker built from a silicon wafer that can be as small as 3 mm square, and as thin as 1 mm. Since these speakers are built on silicon, you can also add an amp right onto the package. This is quite literally a speaker on a chip, and we’d bet that there are already engineers at Samsung looking at stuffing this into a flagship phone.

ST and USound announced these extraordinarily small speakers would actually be made, but so far it’s been just that — an announcement. This changed at CES where ST demonstrated VR goggles with multiple MEMS speakers. Does this mean MEMS speakers are on their way to Mouser and Digikey? We eagerly await the product announcement and demo dev board kit.

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.

$10 Orange Pi 2G-IoT Released to Compete With Pi Zero W

A new single-board computer by Orange Pi has popped up for sale on AliExpress. The Orange Pi 2G-IoT is designed to compete with the Raspberry Pi Zero, and if specs are anything to go by they have done a nice job.

There are a lot of options for extra small single board computers these days and there’s a growing list at the lowest price points. Let’s call it the sub-$20 cost range (to quell the argument of shipping fees). We have seen C.H.I.P., the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Pi Zero W (an update to the Zero line that included WiFi and Bluetooth), the already available Orange Pi Zero (which was featured in a project on Monday), and now add to that list the unfortunately named Orange Pi 2G-IoT.

The 2g-IoT is sporting an ARM Cortex-A5 32bit clocked at 1GHz with 256MB DDR2 RAM. It’s nice to see 500 MB of on-board NAND to go along with an SD card slot for larger storage. It also has a CSI camera connector, WiFi, Bluetooth, an FM Radio and GSM/GPRS with a sim card slot on the bottom. It is pin compatible with Raspberry Pi’s almost standardized GPIO layout.

All this for $10 is quite impressive to say the least, especially the addition of GSM/GPRS. Will it kill Raspberry Pi Zero W sales? We think not. While the Orange Pi’s are great little computers, they don’t have the community support that is afforded to Raspberry Pi products making for less support online when you run into a problem. That’s if you can even get the thing running in the first place. The Orange Pi’s website has not yet been updated to reflect the new release. However if you are interested in getting one for yourself right now, head over to your favorite Chinese electronics supplier.

[via Geeky Gadgets and CNX]

New Part Day: Smoothie For RAMPS

When it comes to 3D printer controllers, there are two main schools of thought. The first group is RAMPS or RAMBo which are respectively a 3D printer controller ‘shield’ for the Arduino Mega and a stand-alone controller board. These boards have been the standard for DIY 3D printers for a very long time, and are the brains for quite a few printers from the biggest manufacturers. The other school of thought trundles down the path of ARM, with the most popular boards running the Smoothie firmware. There are advantages to running a printer with an ARM microcontroller, and the SmoothieBoard is fantastic.

Re-ARM for RAMPS — a Kickstarter that went live this week — is the middle ground between these two schools of thought. It’s a motherboard for RAMPS, but brings the power of a 32-bit LPC1768 ARM processor for all that smooth acceleration, fine control, and expansion abilities the SmoothieBoard brings.

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