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Columbia Area Embedded Designers Message Board › I need your feedback!

I need your feedback!

James D.
user 32593762
Laurel, MD
Post #: 3
I would like to start a project at our next meeting. The question is do we go the SOC (system on chip) route or discrete microcontroller? Whatever we make could be our base platform for on going projects.

Many embedded systems today are implemented as an SOC (Android phones, iPhone, iPad, iPod, PSP, Nintendo DS, ...). In SOC design an entire system is designed in a single chip. Many times these systems are developed in an FPGA and then converted to an ASIC. Most SOC design have a processor core (like ARM) surrounded by custom logic (video controller, I/O controller, memory controller,...). There are many prebuilt cores that we could use in our designs. Just like there is open software, there is also open hardware. One of the best sites for this is
The biggest cons to SOC design is the cost of entry. There are free versions of the tools but a dev board will cost about $120. But after the initial investment everything is free (within the resources of the FPGA that is). For example say you have a system you designed and you find this cool bluetooth module you want to add to it. Unfortunately the bluetooth module requires a UART and you don't have one left on your processor. With a programmable SOC you simply add a UART.

Discrete Micro:
We could design a system with discrete components or we could purchase an off the shelf dev board or dev board kit. There are many out there to choose from. The biggest pro for this approach is the low cost of entry (about $25). The biggest con is the lack of flexibility.

I by far prefer the SOC route. Let me know what you think.

A former member
Post #: 6
Jim - my initial inclination is to start with discrete micro due to the cost of SOC. As thing advance, SOC seems the way to go since it would provide greater capability/flexibility.

Any thoughts on what to build for the first project or two? That might help drive the decision on which to start with. I assume each of us would need our own platform?

James D.
user 32593762
Laurel, MD
Post #: 4
A lot of this depends on what people want to get out of the group.
If we plan to collaborate on designs we should decide on a common base platform to enable collaboration.
If people are interested in building up a platform from discrete micro components either from scratch or from a kit there are some good, inexpensive options.
If we go with discrete micro design we should probably go with an Arduino-based platform because of the popularity. It’s arguably the most prolific microcontroller platform in the world with plenty of source code out there and there are tons of add-on boards (called “shields”).
This kit is a bare-bones kit we could put together to play with Arduino and it’s one of the cheapest ways to get started but still build it yourself.
Even cheaper (the absolute cheapest way to get started with Arduino) would be to buy one of these PCBs:
And this microcontroller:­
This combo, along with some other miscellaneous parts, could make an Arduino kit for about ten bucks. The drawback here is that it wouldn’t have the standard Arduino form factor so we couldn’t later expand our projects to use the shields. We could still use it to breadboard our own add-ons.
Both of these options would also require buying a power supply or using batteries and an rs323 driver or usb adapter, adding some additional minimal costs to the kits.
We could get together to solder the kit together and think up some projects that would use them.
If the group’s main interest is in writing software for embedded systems rather than soldering boards together then we could buy an already made Arduino board (~$25) or we could get this (or something like it):
This board gives a lot of bang for the buck. Another popular platform is the Beagle Board:
The BeagleBoard is cool because it works well for video applications since it has a DSP and an ARM core in a single package.
Another direction we could take is System-on-chip (SOC). This is much more flexible. Some options here would be:­
The cost would be $79 (or $59 if you can get the academic price), so it’s not all that much higher than the above choices. This would be good for learning the basics of working with FPGAs and we could do some cool stuff with it. We could put whatever flavor microcontroller we want in it, for instance an AVR core along with the Arduino boot –loader and use it as an Arduino. For a few dollars we could add this VGA adapter and drive a monitor:
One fun project to do would be to implement classic arcade games:
This one doesn’t have much for peripherals so we would have to do that on a breadboard when we get to the point where we want to connect to more things.
For a little bit more money ($119 or $79 academic) we can get a board that has more peripherals built in:­
This little guy has plenty of switches, lights, connectors (VGA/Serial), SD card slot, etc. Here’s the specs:­
I hope this gives everyone some concrete choices and that we can agree on one with which to start. Let me know what you think!

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