This review is now available and updated on the Road test group - http://www.element14.com/community/roadTestReviews/1553
1 - Introduction
This review is for the EasyPIC Fusion v7 evaluation board along with Mikro Electronika’s other products has a unique hardware layout that goes against the small form factor system offer by most development companies. The EasyPIC Fusion though has this as a major strength in its design. The review was carried out at the same instance I was just commencing second semester of my second year Electronic Engineering Degree course. The courses studied are, Electronic Fundamentals, Signals and Systems and Microprocessors 204. This course allowed me to review while also evaluating other hardware solutions and compilers.
I will be covering areas of the review from first appearances through to software and coding.
2 - Presentation
First appearance is a winner, especially for those new to the industry the Easy PIC Fusion v7 has an outstanding appearance and a functionality that I did not expect. I placed the box for storage and after a few days I had difficulty locating it. It finally appeared after what look like blending in with the other files. The bonus is that if someone was to break in and steal items the packing box would appear as a book and not a profitable item to cash in.
The booklet and user guides are well printed clear and extremely informative. As a hardware technician circuit information is something that is hard to locate and after a period of time are ripped and misplaced. The information in the Easy PIC Fusion v7 has been printed in good clear and strong cardstock with excellent printing. This makes for a long lasting information source and especially useful for universities that would see many students come and go along with poor handling.The box is sturdy and well partitioned, housing items in a good position based on their intended use. Items are retrieved by most used in last and first out.
Online resources are also easily accessible and concise making this kit really nice for anyone. It is this online resource that prompted my attention in the first place to an excellent resource that I knew and will continue to develop with for a long time.
3 - Hardware
At first appearance the hardware available is very complete; a lot of thought and attention to details have been engineered into the Easy PIC Fusion. Over all other development kits that I have the Mikro Electronika development system will be my most popular used source for development, easy to use and intuitive hardware design.
3.1 - Microprocessor Module
This is a well-designed area of the Easy PIC Fusion and apart from most other development boards the microprocessor modules are easily plugged in an out making this a very resourceful system for mutlitple processor design for many projects. As I continue to develop system, I see a need to change processor as I go. Important consideration would need to be taken and I would not want to purchase a whole new development system once one project is completed. The main requirement of any development system is the GPIO and other output configuration, with the Easy PIC Fusion differing microprocessor can be inserted negating the need to have an extensive array of development board sitting idle and unused.
The microprocessor module have been clearly labeled with their respect I/O configuration making it easy to remove the processor for further development as a standalone unit. The size is even smaller than most development boards for it purpose for the stage 2 of design work, the portability design.
For myself after my project is complete I hope to remove the CPU board and connect it to I/O hardware on a prototyping board and used as a standalone portable system for which the project is intended. Details of the project are not clear but will be discussed later. I may even see if the processor modul could be used as a final project design.
3.2 - EasyTFT Display Module
This is a nice module although when the board arrived the software libraries were not readily available, I had notice an Element14 community member announcing the issue from which patches were made available very quickly after starting the evaluation.
Like the rest of the package information on the EasyTFT is clearly labeled the pin connections and port configurations. The labeling plays a very important feature in this package as will be mentioned later.
3.3 - Main Board
The main development board appeared congested with switches, which at first appeared overpopulated, but only for a brief period the importance of these switches became apparent along with the processor board. There are plenty of output ports available, most duplicated and one of my favorite features is the numerous array of buttons and LED’s. This is one of the key reasons for my original opinion on all of the development board I have researched before I received the Easy PIC Fusion v7. There is no more scrambling with breadboard for basic development which has been key to my successful transition with one of my projects.
Even some of the simplest principle of electronics has been engineered into this development board to include levels tied High/Low or High Z now there is no need to located and connect external components to do the same job.
The major benefit of the Mikro Electronika development boards and this approach is the speed at which development can start and progress. With minimal interface required for I/O this is a big benefit with today’s level of speed required to start development to complete projects with time to spare.
Testing a circuit is easy, with good looped ground points; this makes it easy to clip on test gear probes for making measurements. My comparison is with my other development board and the University Dragon Clic2 development board. All of these have no clips holds to plug probe earth lead to make measurements.
I could see though a need for an extra one more loop ground lead placed near the lower left hand corner of the TFT display to allow connection for testing the lower left section of the board.
The board mounting is one area I feel needs attention. I intend to mount this development board onto a panel using the four holes located at each corner, but due to the large size of the board my concern is flexing of the board as buttons (especially the joystick) are pressed and fitting the TFT and microprocessor modules. This flex although not severe could reduce the life of the connections and I could easily see another 2 more holes fitted. In the meantime I have mounted 2 more rubber feet in the same location to where extras holes should be fitted and subsequently have reduced the amount of flex in the PCB.
3.4 - Accessory connectivity
The Easy PIC Fusion v7 also includes 2 extra click board connector to host a vast range of click board accessories offering extra development in many other output components. The connector arrangement can also allow these extra boards to play an import role in any stage 2 development by placing them onto the prototype board for portability testing prior to board development.
3.5 - Other hardware
There is located a number of commonly used port and audio connection available to develop system prior to expanding. The great design is that these common sections (USB UART, CAN UB HOST and more) are available in click board construction as a low cost stage 2 prototype construction. There also includes 2 temperature controller pin out for the popular LM35 and DS18020 temperature, but as can be shown later these are configured to allow a number of other 3 pin devices to be used for evaluation, two of which are important for my future projects.
3.6 - Power Supply
Again engineers at Mikro Electronika have included a power supply, although this is thought in many development kits, the PSU supplied can be used a good reference for building a final project. A developer can easily select from a standalone USB power to a more powerful switching regulator contained on the development board. The USB power has enough beef to handle loads from most of the components I have tested so far on the board. This was confirmed during the Mikro Electronika webcast before the evaluation.
3.7 - Construction
The construction of the development board is first rate with no defects that I could visualize, apart from the mounting holes and one less ground point, the rest of near perfect, great soldering too. I went through with a microscope to look all over the board in great detail and am happy to say the quality control is excellent. I have realised though there is only so much that can be fitted to a development board and as much as possible has been done to ensure a complete system.
I did have a bit of a chuckle, for the buzzer had a remove after wash label still attached, but it make for a nice sound buffer, so my children don’t get annoyed when I am developing late at night. My wife is deaf so I can hammer nails without waking her up.
4 - Software
In my evaluation it is important to understand that my review is based on a learning environment. For over thirty years I have dealt with hardware repairs as a qualified hardware service technician and I have only re-entered University as a mature age student to increase my current learning capabilities in electronic engineering field. So my software understanding could be limited, but can be used as a basis to anyone else entering the learning environment.
I first carried out an intuitive installation placed my logical mind to the test in installing and setting up the Easy PIC Development software and driver without the use of the manual. I also carried out the same installation on another computer with the manual as a comparison.
The result was an easy installation package, although I do not recommend beginners to avoid using themanual as I am relatively experienced in hardware and software installation I found the whole process to be very easy and only a single mishap on the intuitive approach.
The hardware include sample code to evaluate some of the features that worked well out of the box and was able to see some of the great design potential I had in store for me.
4.2 - Initial testing.
The sample code installed was my first port of call; I tested a couple of the installed applications including blinking LED’s, joystick application. I later looked some other code and without completely looking at the examples. I erased the example code on the processor on my first programming. This I thought may need to be looked at; the programmer activated and immediately erased the code on the microprocessor before I could think about stopping it. I think a warning dialog would be a good default before programming takes place as I wanted to download the hex file and save it before going into it further. If there is a warning I haven’t figured it out as yet, but is obviously not default.
It was not a severe loss as there is a massive amount of example codes available for testing and evaluating.
4.3 - Example code
As mentioned, there is an enormous amount of example code available and the first example to be looked at is the blinking/Curtain LED code. I wouldn’t be surprised that this is the most commonly used code for people receiving this board.
It is important to say that upon receiving this board I just started my University course Microprocessor 204 and found from this point on difficult to manage studies and other commitments, I have been fortunate enough to get a 1 week study break before the evaluation period to be able to look at completion of the review.
During my course at the very first lecture, it was mentioned that it was important to consider on a single IDE available during the course and to stick with it. The importance of this was not apparent straight away but after the third week I found it a struggle to manipulate 2 IDE’s for embedded C learning. Apart from this issue I have been able to spend a bit of time playing around with existing code and see some of the benefit of the software hardware integration. I was unable to use my own choice of IDE, but only 2 were offered by the university. I have detailed the reason later in this review.
4.4 - Code Manipulation
As a new programmer, the first task was to look at code manipulation. With my hardware technical experience I was able to look at the board and notice the LM35 temperature interface has a consistent wiring configuration to that of any 3 pin analog device.
I was successfully able to manipulate the code to interface a Light Sensor to the LM35 input and then changed the code. The object was to get accustomed to the “C” code requirements for the PIC32 processor. This was a successful venture and was able to easily modify the code to input Lux readings to the code and watch the changing light display on the LCD screen. The final lux level was not calibrated exactly but was approximate enough to learn the details of the code and with that gave me more confidence in learning the IDE.
Shown in the 2 images the larger image is the full board with the light sensor fitted into the LM35 connector using breadboard leads.
The smaller of the image is one of the reading measured and displayed. I was able to watch the reading reduce as the sun went down outside, My only source of calibration though was a reference guide on amount of light versus lux. The source the the light levels is for the light sensor datasheet - http://www.vishay.com/docs/84154/appnotesensors.pdf - Page 9.
4.5 - Projects
I have a number of ideas, all of which will not be complete before the review is done, but I was able to start coding a simple button/light control. I like the ability to develop on a single platform when designing a development solution, so with that I saw an opportunity for Mikro Electronika to consider a flowchart software integration that can be used for pseudo coding. Flowcharts are my preferred method of pseudo code and one that is more portable than written pseudo code. Instead I downloaded a simple open source software flowchart diagram but found the back and forth step to code from this method a bit harder than an integrated package would do. I am not aware of any other IDE that does this method of software so I am not expecting this, but only offer this as a suggestion for future development.
My first code is to be able to carry out nested loops to 32 input controls to be used for remote operation for more than 32 functions. So far the basics have been started and hope once completed will be able to share the source within the community. My business deals with disabilities so it is expected this solution to incorporate disability access, but as I am not sure it will be effective I would rather keep it under wraps at this stage.
Other projects include remote telescope observatory I have started construction with and will look at a number of telemetry solutions most visibility and weather conditions to monitor and carry out certain functions. This is a very long project and will take some time while university studies dominate.
4.6 - University solution
I so much like to see this package available in University studies, there is so much emphasis on software that very little is taught on hardware on the same course. Easy PIC Fusion v7 and any other packages from Mikro Electronkia have an excellent hardware software system that learning the complete system as a whole would be a major benefit.
As far as our University goes this would not be possible. Although not a flaw in the IDE, MicroC compiler does not have MISRA C compliance as part of the code optimisation feature set. For the benefit of the initiated MISRA C is a code structure designed initial for the motor vehicle industry to make coding safe to use in critical systems, our university will not use IDE's without compiler optimisation feature with mandatory MISRA C compliance. This could be a great opportunity for Mikro Electronika to investigate for the future. I expect more university incorporate MISRA C compliance to be taught to prospective engineers..
This is by far no objection to the software package as very few IDE incorporate this method of compliance and I believe this is relatively new for implementation beyond the motor industry. One of my projects may require MISRA C compliance as it may operate critical systems.
5 - Conclusion
Overall the Easy PIC Fusion is a great package along with the MicroC compiler. I find the package to be excellent as I have assumed in the past and now firmly establish my finding with this evaluation opportunity. I would like to thank all parties, Mikro Electronika, Element14 community, Christian Defeo.
I would have liked to offer a better review formatted in a PDF format but time had eluded me with family, studies and business commitments and just happy to be able to offer this review at some level. I will attempt to continue to review this product as much as I can and hope when time is available offer more to review other software and hardware solutions in the future.