New Part Day: TI Jumps In To The Cheap MCU Market

One of the interesting areas in the world of new parts recently has been at the lower end of the microcontroller market. Not because the devices there have new capabilities or are especially fast, but because they are cheap. There are now quite a few parts from China under 10 cents apiece, but have the Western manufacturers been able to follow suit? Not quite, but Texas Instruments has a new line of ARM Cortex M0+ parts that get under 40 cents in volume in their cheapest form.

That bottom-of-the-range chip is the MSPM0L1105, a single-core 32 MHz part with 32k of Flash and 4k of RAM. It’s got all the usual peripherals you’d expect on a small microcontroller, but the one which made our heads turn was the on-board 1.45-Msps ADC. On a cheap chip, that’s much faster than expected.

So there’s another microcontroller, and it’s not as cheap as some of its competition, so what? Aside from that ADC there are several reasons to be interested, it has TI’s developer support if you’re in that ecosystem, and inevitably it will find its way on to the dev boards and SBCs we use in our community. It remains to be seen how it will fare in terms of the chip shortage though.

Meanwhile, here’s a reminder of that cheaper competition.

Thanks to the several friends who delivered this tip.

Classic Calculators Emulated In Browser

The Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, now known simply as MAME, started off as a project to emulate various arcade games. The project is still adding new games to its library, but the framework around MAME makes it capable of emulating pretty much any older computer. The computer doesn’t even need to be a gaming-specific machine as the latest batch of retro hardware they’ve added support for is a number of calculators from the 90s and early 00s including a few classics from Texas Instruments.

Since no one is likely to build an arcade cabinet version of a TI-89, all of these retro calculators are instead emulated entirely within a browser. This includes working buttons and functions on an overlay of each of these calculators but also pixel-accurate screen outputs for each of these. The graphing calculators have more of what we would consider a standard computer screen, but even the unique LCDs of some of the more esoteric calculators are accurately replicated as well thanks to the MAME artwork system.

There are a number of calculators implemented under this project with a full list found at this page, and the MAME team has plans to implement more in the future. If you’re looking for something fun to do on a more modern calculator, though, take a look at this build which implements ray tracing on a TI-84 Plus CE.

Thanks to [J. Peterson] for the tip!

Exploring Texas Instrument’s Forgotten CPU

Texas Instruments isn’t the name you usually hear associated with the first microprocessor. But the TI TMX 1795 was an 8008 chip produced months before the 8008. It was never available commercially, though, so it has been largely forgotten by most people. But not [Ken Shirriff]. You can see a demo from 2015 of the device in the video below, too.

The reason the chips have the same architecture is they were built to replace the same large circuit board inside a Datapoint 2200 programmable terminal. These were big beasts that could be programmed in BASIC or PL/B.

Datapoint asked Intel to shrink the board to a chip due to heating problems — but after delays, they instead replaced the power supply and lost interest in the device. TI heard about the affair and wanted in on the deal. However, Datapoint was unimpressed. The chip didn’t tolerate voltage fluctuations very well, since they had replaced the power supply and had a new CPU design that was faster than the chip would be. They were also unimpressed with how much stuff you had to add to get a complete system.

So why did the Intel 8008 work out in the marketplace but the TI chip didn’t? After all, Datapoint decided not to use the 8008, also. But as [Ken] points out, the 8008 was much smaller than the TI chip and, thus, was more cost-effective to produce.

As usual, [Ken]’s posts are always interesting and enlightening. He’s looked at a lot of old computers. He’s even dug into old space hardware. Great stuff!

Continue reading “Exploring Texas Instrument’s Forgotten CPU”

Flashing TI Chips With An ESP

Texas Instruments is best known to the general public for building obsolete calculators and selling them at extraordinary prices to students, but they also build some interesting (and reasonably-priced) microcontrollers as well. While not as ubiquitous as Atmel and the Arduino platform, they can still be found in plenty of consumer electronics and reprogrammed, and [Aaron] aka [atc1441] demonstrates how to modify them with an ESP32 as an intermediary.

Specifically, the TI chips in this build revolve around the 8051-core¬† microcontrollers, which [Aaron] has found in small e-paper price tags and other RF hardware. He’s using an ESP32 to reprogram the TI chips, and leveraging a web server on the ESP in order to be able to re-flash them over WiFi. Some of the e-paper displays have built-in header pins which makes connecting them to the ESP fairly easy, and once that’s out of the way [Aaron] also provides an entire software library for interacting with these microcontrollers through the browser interface.

Right now the project supports the CC2430, CC2510 and CC1110 variants, but [Aaron] plans to add support for more in the future. It’s a fairly comprehensive build, and much better than buying the proprietary TI programmer, so if you have some of these e-paper displays laying around the barrier to entry has been dramatically lowered. If you don’t have this specific type of display laying around, we’ve seen similar teardowns and repurposing of other e-paper devices in the past as well.

Continue reading “Flashing TI Chips With An ESP”

Hacking An Obsolete Yet Modern Calculator

The gold standard for graphing calculators, at least in the US, are the Texas Instruments TI-84 series. Some black sheep may have other types, but largely due to standardized testing these calculators dominate the market. Also because of standardized testing, these calculators have remained essentially unchanged for decades. While this isn’t great for getting value for money, it does mean that generations of students have been able to hack on these calculators to do all kinds of interesting things as [George Hilliard] outlines.

Even before the creation of these graphing calculators, the z80 processor behind them was first produced over four decades ago and was ubiquitous in the computer scene at the time, which also lends to its hackability. There’s plenty to catch up on here, too, from custom TI games that trick the two-tone display into grayscale to Game Boy emulators that can play Zelda since the TI and Game Boy share the same processors. There are also several methods of running native code or otherwise “jailbreaking” these devices to run arbitrary code.

It looks like the world of TI hacking is alive and well now, and with several decades of projects to browse there’s always something new to find. As it stands, there may be more decades of these types of projects to come, since neither TI nor the various testing standardization companies and government agencies show any signs of changing any time soon.

Thanks to [Adrian] for the tip!

Developing The First ICs In Orbit

Over six decades of integrated circuit production we’ve become used to their extreme reliability and performance for a very reasonable price. But what about those first integrated circuits from the early 1960s? Commercial integrated circuits appeared in 1961, and recently Texas Instruments published a fascinating retrospective on the development of their first few digital ICs.

TI’s original IC product on the market was the SN502, a transistor flip-flop that debuted at $450 (about $4100 today), which caught the interest of NASA engineers who asked for logic functions with a higher performance level. The response was the development of the 51 series of logic chips, whose innovation included on-chip interconnects replacing the hand interconnects of the SN502. Their RCTL logic gave enough performance and reliability for NASA to use, and in late 1963 the Explorer 18 craft carried a telemetry system using the SN510 and SN514 chips into orbit. 52 and 53 series chips quickly followed, then in 1964 the 54 series TTL chips which along with their plastic-encapsulated 74 series equivalents are still available today.

Considering that in 1961 the bleeding edge of integrated circuit logic technology was a two-transistor chip with hand interconnects, it seems scarcely conceivable that by ten years later in 1971 the art had advanced to the point at which the first commercially available microprocessors would be produced. It’s unlikely that many of us will stumble upon any of the three-figure SN1-series logic chips, but to read about them is a fascinating reminder of this pivotal moment in the history of electronics.

Header: Mister rf, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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Hackaday Links: December 27, 2020

We’re always pleased to see one of our community’s projects succeed, and we celebrate that success in whatever what it comes. But seeing a company launched to commercialize an idea that started as a Hackaday.io project and a Hackaday Prize entry is especially gratifying. So we were pleased as punch to see that MAKESafe Tools has managed to bring the idea of add-on machine tool braking to market. We’d love to add this to several tools in our shop. Honestly, of all the terrifying ways machine tools can slice, dice, and shred human flesh asunder, we always considered the lowly bench grinder fairly low-risk — and then we had a chance to “Shake Hands with Danger.”

Another great thing about the Hackaday community is the way we all try to keep each other up to speed on changes and news that affects even our smallest niches. Just last week Tom Nardi covered a project using the venerable TI eZ430-Chronos smartwatch as a makeshift medical alert bracelet for a family member. It’s a great application for the proto-smartwatch, but one eagle-eyed commenter helpfully pointed out that TI is shutting down their processors wiki in just a couple of weeks. The banner at the top of each page warns that the wiki is not read-only and that any files needed should be downloaded by January 15. Also helpfully, subsequent comments include instructions to download the entire wiki and a torrent link to the archive. It’s always sad to see a platform lose support, especially one that has gained a nice following, but it’s heartening to see the community pull together to continue to support each other like this.

We came across an interesting article this week that’s was a fascinating glimpse into how economic forces shape¬† and drive technological process, and vice versa. It turns out that some of the hottest real estate commodities these days are the plots of land occupied by AM radio stations serving metropolitan markets. It’s no secret that terrestrial radio in general, and AM radio in particular, are growing increasingly moribund, and the infrastructure needed to keep them on the air is getting harder and harder to justify. Chief among these are the large tracts of land devoted to antenna farms, which are often located in suburban and exurban areas near major cities. They’re tempting targets for developers looking to plunk down the physical infrastructure needed to support “New Economy” players like Amazon, which continue to build vast automated warehouses in areas that are handy to large customer bases. It’s a bit sad to watch a once mighty industry unravel and be sold off like this, but such is the nature of progress.

And finally, you may recall a Links article mention a few weeks back about a teardown of a super-sized IBM processor module. A quarter-million dollar relic of the 1990s, the huge System/390 module was an engineering masterpiece that met an unfortunate end at the hands of EEVblog’s Dave Jones. As a follow-up, Dave teamed up with fellow YouTuber CPU Galaxy to take a less-destructive tour of the module using X-ray analysis. The level of engineering needed for a 64-layer ceramic backplane is astonishing, and Dave’s play-by-play is pretty entertaining too. As a bonus, CPU Galaxy has some really interesting stuff; his place is basically a museum of vintage tech, and he just earned a new sub.