At first glance, this board seems a little complex, to say the least: it has two USB ports, a million pads to solder headers on, a touch slider, an accelerometer and a large TQFP-80 ARM microcontroller. This is different to what most people coming from an Arduino background will be familiar with (a board that has just enough to program and run the microcontroller, no more). However, this is a 32-bit ARM we are talking about, a significant step up from the 8-bit AVR microcontrollers. Still, Freescale has really thought of everything when designing this board - the little things like the rubber standoffs and space to solder a coin cell holder allow this board to be used anywhere and everywhere. Plus, the beautiful black soldermask with ENIG plating makes this something you'd want to have hanging up somewhere in your house, on a project you can show off!
The board came with one of those mini CDs, which I promptly disregarded; it's completely unnecessary. Instead, I went over to the Freescale product page for the board, and was presented with a huge wall of text, much of which was a string of letters and numbers. Heading to the training/support tab, I found a training video I thought I'd try. However, this required the use of the CodeWarrior IDE. This was the low point of my experience; in order to download a trial version of the software, I had to create a full account with Freescale (giving out all sorts of details such as what the end product is), only to be presented with a message saying that my request will be processed, instead of a download link. Forget it!
Unable to bear the information overload on the Freescale site, I went to the , and found a really useful mbed quick start guide. It's dead easy to set up - as easy as getting an Arduino up and running. All you have to do is:
- Plug in the board using the SDA USB port with the reset button held (it'll appear as a usb storage device)
- Go to the mbed website and download a bootloader
- Place the bootloader in the root folder of the board
- Restart the board
Then, you create an account with MBED, and you can compile! You can also import demo programs with just a couple of clicks, and when you hit compile, you get a .bin file, which you place in the root folder of the board (which is now titled MBED), and voilà - your program will run! And MBED has a much more comprehensive list of demo programs than what I found on the Freescale website. The beauty of using an online compiler is that you can get up and running on any machine with an internet connection, and still have all your previous programs and projects, thanks to the miracle of cloud storage!
Now, the cherry on top of the board is its price. It costs roughly $15, as much as a meal at a café! I would definitely recommend this board to anybody wanting to go further with their embedded electronics projects. Perhaps this isn't the product of choice for people new to electronics and programming, but hey, that's what Arduino is for. A suggestion to element14 however: ship these boards with the headers as well, as you can then solder them on and get started quickly, instead of waiting around for another order to come in!
More high-resolution images and example code here:
I've had some more time to play around with this board using mbed (still no reply from Freescale regarding the CodeWarrior IDE), and I can say this board is nothing short of amazing. Being new to ARM in general, I was afraid of a steep learning curve, but the documentation on mbed.org regarding this board is great. There are explained examples on using various parts of the board such as the touch slider, and since the whole platform is online, importing libraries and examples is really simple. Just be warned that if you don't have much background in C/C++ or microcontroller programming in general, then you will likely get a few headaches before you get any interesting code of your own running. That being said, the libraries and mbed framework in general is extremely well designed and not hard to work with at all.
Well, Freescale has replied to me directly in the comments, and even posted direct download links to the codewarrior IDE. Shows great customer care and support; better late than never!