Posts with «microcontrollers» label

New Teensy 4.0 Blows Away Benchmarks, Implements Self-Recovery, Returns to Smaller Form

Paul Stoffregen did it again: the Teensy 4.0 has been released. The latest in the Teensy microcontroller development board line, the 4.0 returns to the smaller form-factor last seen with the 3.2, as opposed to the larger 3.5 and 3.6 boards.

Don’t let the smaller size fool you; the 4.0 is based on an ARM Cortex M7 running at 600 MHz (!), the fastest microcontroller you can get in 2019, and testing on real-world examples shows it executing code more than five times faster than the Teensy 3.6, and fifteen times faster than the Teensy 3.2. Of course, the new board is also packed with periperals, including two 480 Mbps USB ports, 3 digital audio interfaces, 3 CAN busses, and multiple SPI/I2C/serial interfaces backed with integrated FIFOs. Programming? Easy: there’s an add-on to the Arduino IDE called Teensyduino that “just works”. And it rings up at an MSRP of just $19.95; a welcomed price point, but not unexpected for a microcontroller breakout board.

The board launches today, but I had a chance to test drive a couple of them in one of the East Coast Hackaday labs over the past few days. So, let’s have a closer look.

First Impressions

The board looks superficially similar to the older 3.2, at least from the top. There’s the usual dual row of pin headers you can plug into a breadboard, a micro-USB connector, and reset button. A new red LED near the USB connector gives you some status information, while the traditional “Arduino LED” is orange. Flip the board over, and you start to see some of the extra power this board wields. Besides ten more GPIO pins, there are pads for an SD card interface using 4-bit SDIO, and D+ and D- lines for the second 480 Mbps USB interface. The unmarked round pads are test points used in manufacturing and are no-connects from the end-user’s perspective.

Teensy 3.2 Everything Killer?

When doing hardware reviews it’s crucial to choose the right comparison hardware. I think the best comparison in this case is between the two boards that share the same form factor; the Teensy 4.0 and the 3.2. I’ve chosen not to make the comparison with the Teensy 3.5 and 3.6, which are priced a little higher, in a larger form factor, and have SD card slots soldered on.

Incredibly, the Teensy 4.0 is priced at $19.95, as opposed to the $19.80 Teensy 3.2. What does that extra fifteen cents buy? First, there’s performance. The 4.0’s 600 MHz clock vs the 72 MHz on the 3.2 doesn’t tell the whole story. The Cortex M7 on the 4.0 is a dual-issue superscalar processor capable of executing up to two 32-bit instructions per clock cycle; initial tests showed this happening between 40-50% of the time on Arduino-compiled code. Additionally, the Cortex-M7 is the first ARM microcontroller with branch prediction. While on the Cortex M4, a branch always takes 3 clock cycles, after a few passes through a loop, for instance, the Cortex M7 can begin executing correctly-predicted branches in a single clock. This is technology originally pioneered in supercomputers that you can use in your next Halloween costume.

Then, there’s floating-point. Veteran embedded programmers may have a bias against floating-point code, and with good reason. Without native floating-point instructions, these operations must be emulated, and run very slowly. The same thing happens with double-precision operations on a processor which only supports single-precision instructions. While Cortex-M4 processors support single-precision floating-point, the Cortex-M7’s include native double-precision instructions, so if you need the extra precision afforded by doubles, you’re not going to take a huge performance hit: basically, doubles seem to execute in only twice as many cycles as floats.

The Cortex-M7 on this board also supports tightly-coupled memory (TCM), which provides fast access like a cache, but without the non-determinism that can complicate hard real-time applications — one of the problems with other high-power microcontrollers. The 64-bit ITCM bus can fetch 64-bits, while two dedicated 32-bit buses (DTCM) can fetch up to two instructions from the TCM each cycle – these buses are separate from the main AXI bus used to communicate with other memory and peripherals. The Teensyduino environment automatically allocates code and statically allocated memory into the DTCM area, which can be up to 512K in size, although you can override the default behavior with some command-line switches. Memory that isn’t accessed by the tightly-coupled buses is optimized for access by the peripherals using DMA.

Spec Sheet

Despite its size, there’s a lot to this board and the chip it carries, so here’s condensed spec list:

  • ARM Cortex-M7 at 600 MHz
  • 1024K RAM (512K is tightly coupled)
  • 2048K Flash (64K reserved for recovery & EEPROM emulation)
  • 2 USB ports, both 480 MBit/sec
  • 3 CAN Bus (1 with CAN FD)
  • 2 I2S Digital Audio
  • 1 S/PDIF Digital Audio
  • 1 SDIO (4 bit) native SD
  • 3 SPI, all with 16 word FIFO
  • 3 I2C, all with 4 byte FIFO
  • 7 Serial, all with 4 byte FIFO
  • 32 general purpose DMA channels
  • 31 PWM pins
  • 40 digital pins, all interrupt capable
  • 14 analog pins, 2 ADCs on chip
  • Cryptographic Acceleration
  • Random Number Generator
  • RTC for date/time
  • Programmable FlexIO
  • Pixel Processing Pipeline
  • Peripheral cross triggering
  • Power On/Off management

The board consumes around 100 mA with a 600 MHz clock. Although I didn’t try it myself with the evaluation boards I have here, Paul notes that it can be overclocked for a performance boost. It also supports dynamic clock scaling: the instruction clock speed is decoupled from the peripherals, so that baud rates, audio sample rates, and timing functions continue to function properly if you change the CPU speed.

For the ultimate in power savings, you can shut the board off by adding a pushbutton to the On/Off pin. Pressing the button for more than five seconds disables the 3.3 V supply; a subsequent brief press will turn it back on. This doesn’t affect the real-time-clock (RTC) functionality, however: connecting a coin cell to the VBAT terminal will keep the time and date counter going.

Hands-On Benchmarks

Higher is better
Board CoreMark
Teensy 4.0 2313.57
Teensy 3.6 440.72
Sparkfun ESP32 Thing 351.33
Teensy 3.5 265.50
Teensy 3.2 218.26
Metro M4 Grand Central 214.85
Arduino Due 94.95
Arduino Zero 56.86
Arduino Mega 7.03

To see how fast this thing really is, Paul ported the CoreMark embedded-processor benchmark to the Arduino environment. (Note that CoreMark seems to be a registered trademark of the Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium (EEMBC)). This synthetic benchmark tests performance managing linked lists, doing matrix multiplies, and executing state machine code. He reports the following scores for a number of boards (larger numbers are better).

I was able to verify the Teensy 4.0 and 3.2 numbers; my 3.6 must have sprouted legs and walked off somewhere, and I didn’t have any of the other boards handy for testing. Using my numbers (nearly identical to those above), the 4.0 is around ten times as fast as the 3.2.

Since the CoreMark code is a “synthetic” benchmark, Paul wanted to test the new board in a more realistic scenario. In another GitHub repo, he has some code to do an RSA signature with a 2048-bit key. This is a processor-intensive operation, believe me — I had to implement it once in Lua (don’t ask!). Here are the scores for the same boards (lower numbers are better).

Lower is better
Board Seconds
Teensy 4.0 0.085
Teensy 3.6 0.474
Sparkfun ESP32 Thing 0.518
Metro M4 Grand Central 0.840
Teensy 3.5 0.909
Teensy 3.2 1.325
Arduino Due 1.901
Arduino Zero 9.638

Again, I was able to verify the numbers for the Teensy 3.2 and 4.0 boards. In this case, the 4.0 is around fifteen times as fast as the 3.2.

If you have any of these, or other Arduino-compatible boards lying around, clone one or both of these repos, open the respective *.ino file from either one, and test them out. Feel free to report results in the comments below.

15 Seconds to Sanity

One of the new features of the Teensy 4.0 is the automatic recovery process, which restores the board to a known good state without the need for a PC connection. If you press and hold the reset button for 15 seconds, the red LED will flash to indicate you’ve entered restore mode. Once you release the button, the red LED will illuminate while the flash memory is erased and re-written with the traditional Arduino “blink” program. Once the re-write is complete, the blink program is run and the orange LED begins blinking, just like on every Arduino-compatible for the past decade and a half. It’s DFU mode without the need for host computer or known-working binary. These used to be key components for hardware-based restore and now they’re part of the board itself.

Why would you want to do this? In a nutshell, because USB itself is a train-wreck. On top of an insanely sprawling and complex protocol, there are charge-only cables sans data pins lurking in your junk box, operating system bugs waiting to trip you up (looking at you, Windows 7), and a whole host of other issues that cause serious head-scratching when things stop working. This can be especially confusing with native-USB boards like the Teensy 4.0; while the built-in USB functionality is amazingly powerful, and can be used in a wide variety of ways, when something stops working, you’re not always sure how to get back on track. Now, you are – just press the button.

What Can You Do with a 600 MHz Microcontroller?

Paul envisions this Teensy 4.0 being used for polyphonic audio synthesis, running moderately complex machine learning algorithms, and real-time audio analysis. In many cases, the first level of processing on data-intensive input devices can now be moved from a host computer to the external microcontroller, narrowing the bandwidth required to the host system. And for projects driving a display, the built-in pixel processing pipeline can also accelerate graphics operations, offloading this work from the CPU.

There will be some fraction of hackers that will still wonder why we need a 600 MHz microcontroller; another fraction will have already needed it yesterday. In between, most users will take some time to figure out what doors this opens up. The reality is that our tools constrain not only our current designs, but also, to some extent, our imagination. A 15x performance improvement over the current tiny development board you may be using could enable some new and exciting applications, and you, dear reader, are the one who makes them happen. So, drive home a different way from work tonight, sleep on the sofa instead of the bed, or use whatever other tricks you have to shock your brain into creativity and figure out what you could really do with this thing. It’s a lot more than you can do with a 555. For that matter, it’s a lot more than most computers could do in the 90s.

An Epic Tale of Thermistors: Tricks for Much Better Temperature Sensing

For years [Edward] has been building professional grade underwater sensing nodes at prices approachable for an interested individual without a government grant. An important component of these is temperature, and he has been on a quest to get the highest accuracy temperature readings from whatever parts hit that sweet optimum between cost and complexity. First there were traditional temperature sensor ICs, but after deploying numerous nodes [Edward] was running into the limit of their accuracy. Could he use clever code and circuitry to get better results? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is a many part series of posts starting in 2016 detailing [Edward]’s exploration to get there.

Orange is 12 bits, red is 24

The first step is a thermistor, a conceptually simple device: resistance varies with temperature (seriously, how much more simple can a sensor get?). You can measure them by tapping the center of a voltage divider the same way you’d measure any other resistance, but [Edward] had discarded this idea because the naive approach combined with his Arduino’s 10 bit ADC yielded resolution too poor to be worthwhile for his needs. But by using the right analog reference voltage and adjusting the voltage divider he could get a 20x improvement in resolution, down to 0.05°C in the relevant temperature range. This and more is the subject of the first post.

What comes next? Oversampling. Apparently fueled by a project featured on Hackaday back in 2015 [Edward] embarked on a journey to applying it to his thermistor problem. To quote [Edward] directly, to get “n extra bits of resolution, you need to read the ADC four to the power of n times”. Three bits gives about an order of magnitude better resolution. This effectively lets you resolve signals smaller than a single sample but only if there is some jitter in the signal you’re measuring. Reading the same analog line with no perturbation gives no benefit. The rest of the post deals with the process of artificially perturbing the signal, which turns out to be significantly complex, but the result is roughly 16 bit accuracy from a 10 bit ADC!

What’s the upside? High quality sensor readings from a few passives and a cheap Arduino. If that’s your jam check out this excellent series when designing your next sensing project!

Blisteringly Fast Machine Learning On An Arduino Uno

Even though machine learning AKA ‘deep learning’ / ‘artificial intelligence’ has been around for several decades now, it’s only recently that computing power has become fast enough to do anything useful with the science.

However, to fully understand how a neural network (NN) works, [Dimitris Tassopoulos] has stripped the concept down to pretty much the simplest example possible – a 3 input, 1 output network – and run inference on a number of MCUs, including the humble Arduino Uno. Miraculously, the Uno processed the network in an impressively fast prediction time of 114.4 μsec!

Whilst we did not test the code on an MCU, we just happened to have Jupyter Notebook installed so ran the same code on a Raspberry Pi directly from [Dimitris’s] bitbucket repo.

He explains in the project pages that now that the hype about AI has died down a bit that it’s the right time for engineers to get into the nitty-gritty of the theory and start using some of the ‘tools’ such as Keras, which have now matured into something fairly useful.

In part 2 of the project, we get to see the guts of a more complicated NN with 3-inputs, a hidden layer with 32 nodes and 1-output, which runs on an Uno at a much slower speed of 5600 μsec.

This exploration of ML in the embedded world is NOT ‘high level’ research stuff that tends to be inaccessible and hard to understand. We have covered Machine Learning On Tiny Platforms Like Raspberry Pi And Arduino before, but not with such an easy and thoroughly practical example.

Play Tetris on a Transistor Tester, Because Why Not?

[Robson] had been using the same multimeter since he was 15. It wasn’t a typical multimeter, either. He had programmed it to also play the Google Chrome jumping dinosaur game, and also used it as a badge at various conferences. But with all that abuse, the ribbon cable broke and he set about on other projects. Like this transistor tester that was just asking to have Tetris programmed onto its tiny screen.

The transistor tester is a GM328A made for various transistor testing applications, but is also an LCR meter. [Robson]’s old meter didn’t even test for capacitance but he was able to get many years of use out of that one, so this device should serve him even better. Once it was delivered he set about adding more features, namely Tetris. It’s based on an ATmega chip, which quite easy to work with (it’s the same chip as you’ll find in the Arduino Uno but [Robson’s] gone the Makefile route instead of spinning up that IDE). Not only did he add more features, but he also found a mistake in the frequency counter circuitry that he fixed on his own through the course of the project.

If you’ve always thought that the lack of games on your multimeter was a total deal breaker, this project is worth a read. Even if you just have a random device lying around that happens to be based on an ATmega chip of some sort, this is a good primer of getting that device to do other things as well. This situation is a fairly common one to be in, too.

An Arduino From The Distant Past

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.

Arduino Gets a Command Line Interface

When using an Arduino, at least once you’ve made it past blinking LEDs, you might start making use of the serial connection to send and receive information from the microcontroller. Communicating with the board while it’s interacting with its environment is a crucial way to get information in real-time. Usually, that’s as far as it goes, but [Pieter] wanted to take it a step farther than that with his command line interpreter (CLI) for the Arduino.

The CLI allows the user to run Unix-like commands directly on the Arduino. This means control of GPIO and the rest of the features of the microcontroller via command line. The CLI communicates between the microcontroller and the ANSI/VT100 terminal emulator of your choosing on your computer, enabling a wealth of new methods of interacting with an Arduino.

The CLI requires a hex file to be loaded onto the Arduino that you can find at a separate site, also maintained by [Pieter]. Once that’s running, you can get all of that sweet command line goodness out of your Arduino. [Pieter] also has some examples on his project page, as well as the complete how-to to get this all set up and running. There’s a lot going on in the command line world, in Linux as well as windows. So there’s plenty to explore there as well.

Hack a Day 11 Nov 03:00
arduino  cli  command line  gpio  i2c  microcontrollers  serial  shell  unix  uno  

Weather Station Is A Tutorial in Low Power Design

Building your own weather station is a fun project in itself, but building it to be self-sufficient and off-grid adds another set of challenges to the mix. You’ll need a battery and a solar panel to power the station, which means adding at least a regulator and charge controller to your build. If the panel and battery are small, you’ll also need to make some power-saving tweaks to the code as well. (Google Translate from Italian) The tricks that [Danilo Larizza] uses in his build are useful for more than just weather stations though, they’ll be perfect for anyone trying to optimize their off-grid projects for battery and solar panel size.

When it comes to power conservation, the low-hanging fruit is plucked first. [Danilo] set the measurement intervals to as long as possible and put the microcontroller (a NodeMCU) to sleep in between. Removing the power from the sensors when the microcontroller was asleep was another easy step, but the device was still crashing overnight. Then he turned to a hardware solution and added a more efficient battery charger to the setup, which saved even more power. This is all the more impressive because the station communicates via WiFi which is notoriously difficult to run in low-power applications.

Besides the low power optimizations, the weather station itself is interesting for its relative simplicity. It could be built with things most of us have knocking around. Best of all, [Danilo] published the source code on his site, so most of the hard work has been done already. If you’re thinking he seems a little familiar, it’s because we’ve featured some of his projects before, like his cheap WiFi extender antenna and his homemade hybrid tube amplifier.

Want to Learn Ethernet? Write Your Own Darn AVR Bootloader!

There’s a school of thought that says that to fully understand something, you need to build it yourself. OK, we’re not sure it’s really a school of thought, but that describes a heck of a lot of projects around these parts.

[Tim] aka [mitxela] wrote kiloboot partly because he wanted an Ethernet-capable Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) bootloader for an ATMega-powered project, and partly because he wanted to understand the Internet. See, if you’re writing a bootloader, you’ve got a limited amount of space and no device drivers or libraries of any kind to fall back on, so you’re going to learn your topic of choice the hard way.

[Tim]’s writeup of the odyssey of cramming so much into 1,000 bytes of code is fantastic. While explaining the Internet takes significantly more space than the Ethernet-capable bootloader itself, we’d wager that you’ll enjoy the compressed overview of UDP, IP, TFTP, and AVR bootloader wizardry as much as we did. And yes, at the end of the day, you’ve also got an Internet-flashable Arduino, which is just what the doctor ordered if you’re building a simple wired IoT device and you get tired of running down to the basement to upload new firmware.

Oh, and in case you hadn’t noticed, cramming an Ethernet bootloader into 1 kB is amazing.

Speaking of bootloaders, if you’re building an I2C slave device out of an ATtiny85¸ you’ll want to check out this bootloader that runs on the tiny chip.

Demystifying The ESP8266 With A Series Of Tutorials

If your interest has been piqued by the inexpensive wireless-enabled goodness of the ESP8266 microcontroller, but you have been intimidated by the slightly Wild-West nature of the ecosystem that surrounds it, help is at hand. [Alexander] is creating a series of ESP8266 tutorials designed to demystify the component and lead even the most timid would-be developer to a successful first piece of code.

If you cast your mind back to 2014 when the ESP8266 first emerged, it caused great excitement but had almost no information surrounding it. You could buy it on a selection of modules, but there were no English instructions and no tools to speak of. A community of software and hardware hackers set to work, resulting in a variety of routes into development including the required add-ons to use the ever-popular Arduino framework. Four years later we have a mature and reliable platform, with a selection of higher-quality and well supported boards to choose from alongside that original selection.

The tutorials cover the Arduino and the ESP, as well as Lua and the official SDK. They are written for a complete newcomer, but the style is accessible enough that anyone requiring a quick intro to each platform should be able to gain something.

Our community never ceases to amaze us with the quality of the work that emerges from it. We’ve seen plenty of very high quality projects over the years, and it’s especially pleasing to see someone such as [Alexander] giving something back in this way. We look forward to future installments in this series, and you should keep an eye out for them.

Hack a Day 26 Aug 18:01

Simulate PIC and Arduino/AVR Designs with no Cloud

I’ve always appreciated simulation tools. Sure, there’s no substitute for actually building a circuit but it sure is handy if you can fix a lot of easy problems before you start soldering and making PCBs. I’ve done quite a few posts on LTSpice and I’m also a big fan of the Falstad simulator in the browser. However, both of those don’t do a lot for you if a microcontroller is a major part of your design. I recently found an open source project called Simulide that has a few issues but does a credible job of mixed simulation. It allows you to simulate analog circuits, LCDs, stepper and servo motors and can include programmable PIC or AVR (including Arduino) processors in your simulation.

The software is available for Windows or Linux and the AVR/Arduino emulation is built in. For the PIC on Linux, you need an external software simulator that you can easily install. This is provided with the Windows version. You can see one of several videos available about an older release of the tool below. There is also a window that can compile your Arduino code and even debug it, although that almost always crashed for me after a few minutes of working. As you can see in the image above, though, it is capable of running some pretty serious Arduino code as long as you aren’t debugging.

Looks and sounds exciting, right? It is, but be sure to save often. Under Linux, it seems to crash pretty frequently even if you aren’t debugging. It also suffers from other minor issues like sometimes forgetting how to move components. Saving, closing the application, and reopening it seems to fix that. Plus, we assume they will squash bugs as they are reported. One of my major hangs was solved by removing the default (old) Arduino IDE and making sure the most recent was on the path. But the crashing was frequent and seemed more or less random. It seemed that I most often had crashes on Linux with occasional freezes but on Windows it would freeze but not totally crash.

Basic Operation

The basic operation is pretty much what you’d expect. The window is broadly divided into three panes. The leftmost pane shows, by default, a palette of components. You can use the vertical tab strip on the left to also pick a memory viewer, a property inspector, or a file explorer.

The central pane is where you can draw your circuit and it looks like a yellow piece of engineering paper with a grid. Along the top are file buttons that do things like save and load files.

You’ll see a similar row of buttons above the rightmost pane. This is a code editor and debugging window that can interface with the Arduino IDE. It looks like it can also interface with GCBasic for the PIC, although I didn’t try that.

You drag components from the left onto the circuit. Wiring isn’t a distinct operation. You just let the mouse float over the connection until the cursor makes a cross. Click and then drag to the connection point and click again. Sometimes the program forgets to make the cross cursor and then I’ve had to save and restart.

Most of the components are just what you think they are. There are some fun ones including a keypad, an LED matrix, text and graphic LCDs, and even stepper and servo motors. You’ll also find several logic functions, 7400-series ICs, and there are annotation tools like text and boxes at the very bottom. You can right click on a category and hide components you never want to see.

At the top, you can add a voltmeter, an ammeter, or an oscilloscope to your circuit. The oscilloscope isn’t that useful because it is small. What you really want to do is use a probe. This just shows the voltage at some point but you can right click on it and add the probe to the plotter which appears at the bottom of the screen. This is a much more useful scope option.

There are a few quirks with the components. The voltage source has a push button that defaults to off. You have to remember to turn it on or things won’t work well. The potentiometers were particularly frustrating. The videos of older versions show a nice little potentiometer knob and that appears on my Windows laptop, too. On Linux the potentiometer (and the oscilloscope controls) look like a little tiny joystick and it is very difficult to set a value. It is easier to right click and select properties and adjust the value there. Just note that the value won’t change until you leave the field.

Microcontroller Features

If that’s all there was to it, you’d be better off using any of a number of simulators that we’ve talked about before. But the big draw here is being able to plop a microcontroller down in your circuit. The system provides PIC and AVR CPUs that are supported by the simulator code it uses. There’s also four variants of Arduinos: the Uno, Nano, Duemilanove, and the Leonardo.

You can use the built-in Arduino IDE — just make sure you have the real Arduino software on your path and it is a recent version. Also, unlike the real IDE, it appears you must save your file before a download or debug will notice the changes. In other words, if you make a change and download, you’ll compile the code before the change if you didn’t save the file first. You don’t have to use the built-in IDE. You can simply right click on the processor and upload a hex file. Recent Arduino IDEs have an option to export a hex file, and that works with no problem.

When you have a CPU in your design, you can right click it and open a serial monitor port which shows virtual serial output at the bottom of the screen and lets you provide input.

The debugging mode is simple but works until it crashes. Even without debugging, there is an option to the left of the screen to watch memory locations and registers inside the CPU.

Overall, the Arduino simulation seemed to work quite well. Connecting to the Uno pins was a little challenging at certain scales and I accidentally wired to the wrong pin on more than one occasion. One thing I found odd is that you don’t need to wire the voltage to the Arduino. It is powered on even if you don’t connect it.

Besides the crashing, the other issue I had was with the simulation speed which was rather slow. There’s a meter at the top of the screen that shows how slow the simulation is compared to real-time and mine was very low (10% or so) most of the time. There is a help topic explaining that this depends if you have certain circuit elements and ways to improve the run time, but it wasn’t bad enough that I bothered to explore it.

My first thought was that it would be difficult to handle a circuit with multiple CPUs in it since the debugging and serial monitors are all set up for a single CPU. However, as the video below shows, you can run multiple instances of the program and connect them via a serial port connection. The only issue would be if you had a circuit where both CPUs were interfacing with interrelated circuitry (for example, an op amp summing two signals, one from each CPU).

A Simple Example

As an experiment, I created a simple circuit that uses an Uno. It generates two PWM signals, integrates them with an RC circuit and then either drives a load or drives a load through a bipolar emitter follower. A pot lets you set the PWM percentages which are compliments of each other (that is, when one is at 10% the other is at 90%). Here’s the circuit:

Along with the very simple code:

int v;

const int potpin=0;
const int led0=5;
const int led1=6;

void setup() {
Serial.begin(9600);
Serial.println("Here we go!");
}

void loop() {
int v=analogRead(potpin)/4;
Serial.println(v);
analogWrite(led0,v);
analogWrite(led1,255-v);
delay(250);
}

Note that if the PWM output driving the transistor drops below 0.7V or so, the transistor will shut off. I deliberately didn’t design around that because I wanted to see how the simulator would react. It correctly models this behavior.

There’s really no point to this other than I wanted something that would work out the analog circuit simulation as well as the Arduino. You can download all the files from GitHub, including the hex file if you want to skip the compile step.

If you use the built-in IDE on the right side of the screen, then things are very simple. You just download your code. If you build your own hex file, just right click on the Arduino and you’ll find an option to load a hex file. It appears to remember the hex file, so if you run a simulation again later, you don’t have to repeat that step unless you moved the hex file.

However, the IDE doesn’t remember settings for the plotter, the voltage switches, or the serial terminal. You’ll especially want to be sure the 5V power switch above the transistor is on or that part of the circuit won’t operate correctly. You can right click on the Arduino to open the serial monitor and right click on the probes to bring back the plotter pane.

The red power switch at the top of the window will start your simulation. The screenshots above show close-ups of the plot pane and serial monitor.

Lessons Learned

This could be a really great tool if it would not crash so much. In all fairness, that could have something to do with my PC, but I don’t think that fully accounts for all of them. However, the software is still in pretty early development, so perhaps it will get better. There are a lot of fit and finish problems, too. For example, on my large monitor, many of the fonts were too large for their containers, which isn’t all that unusual.

The user interface seemed a little clunky, especially when you had to manipulate potentiometers and switches. Also, remember you can’t right-click on the controls but must click on the underlying component. In other words, the pot looks like a knob on top of a resistor. Right clicks need to go on the resistor part, not the knob. I also was a little put off that you can’t enter multiplier suffixes directly in component values. That is, you can’t enter a resistor value as 1K. You can enter 1000 or you can enter 1 and then change the units in a separate field to Kohms. But that’s not a big deal. You can get used to all of that if it would quit crashing.

I really wanted the debugging feature to work. While you can debug directly with simuavr or other tools, you can’t easily simulate all your I/O devices like you can with this tool. I’m hoping that becomes more robust in the future. Under Linux it would work for a bit and crash. On Windows, I never got it to work.

As I always say, though, simulation is great, but the real world often leads to surprises that don’t show up in simulation. Still, a simulation can help you clear up a host of problems before you commit to heating up the soldering iron or pulling out the breadboard. Simuide has the potential to be a great tool for simulating the kind of designs we see most on Hackaday.

If you want to explore other simulation options, we’ve talked a lot about LTSpice, including our Circuit VR series. There’s also the excellent browser-based Falstad simulator.