Review of Texas Instruments DK-LM3S9D96 Development Kit

Table of contents

RoadTest: Texas Instruments DK-LM3S9D96 Development Kit

Author: codewhiz

Creation date:

Evaluation Type: Evaluation Boards

Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True

What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: NXP LPC1768 ARM Cortex-M3 Board

What were the biggest problems encountered?: None so far.

Detailed Review:

element14 RoadTest

Review of Texas Instruments Stellaris DK-LM3S9D96 Development Board

By Renelson Alvarez

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PREFACE

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I would like to thank element14 for giving me this opportunity to own and review this Texas Instruments Stellaris Development board. It is actually my first time to personally own an ARM processor kit because it is only at my work that I have the chance to use this kind of experimental boards.

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If there are any errors or corrections that you’ve noticed in this review, feel free to contact me.

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UNBOXING THE KIT

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Packaging

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I was quite impressed on how TI organizes this kit. They manage to separate the development board and accessories using two boxes. Maybe this could be TI’s way of marketing their kit by using the similar set of accessories on different boards. Not all might appreciate very much the way the kit is packaged as an embedded developer, I usually have times that I needed to shelf or store the kits when the main prototype or product arrives in my workbench. At least now, I don’t need to worry that my development board will get damage because I can separate them with the other loose items using the available boxes.

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Kit contents

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The items in the kit are included just as what was promised in the product description. Most of the interfaces that you will use on the board have their own cables that are provided in the kit. It is only the CAN bus cable that is somehow missing. I guess since CAN connections can vary on different types of applications, this board has provided a 10 PIN header that could connect on a specific CAN bus interface cable. I also noticed that the microSD card was bundled with an adapter which can be quite handy if you’re planning to have applications where you may want to view your stored pictures from your digital camera on to this kit.

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It is such a nice thing that the documentation cd and the code development software cds are included in the kit. This lessens the time that I will need in order to start developing my program using the kit. It would be interesting also to see if the document materials were placed on the bundled USB flash stick instead of using a CD. Well, it may be another marketing strategy since not all development kits might use a USB interface which is why they still use the CD.

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The main board and the LCD touch panel are both attached on a card board. I consider this to be nice to have since I don’t need to worry that the Flat Flexible Cable (FFC) of the LCD will get damage through time because of its loose connection on the board. It seems that LCD was attached using a double sided adhesive which makes this very useful so that the LCD will be stable when it will be used as a touch screen input.

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Board layout

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As a PCB layout designer before, I could say that the components were strategically placed on the board. It is clear where the jumpers connect to the specific interfaces of the chip. Most of the components and areas are properly labeled. There are somehow adequate spaces for a user’s fingers to easily remove the jumpers. However, I might disagree on the clearance that was placed in between the EPI expansion board with its surrounding parts. I haven’t used the other expansion boards but looking at how big they are as compared to the bundled 8MB SDRAM, I would assume that they are much difficult to connect or disconnect because of the minimal spaces around the expansion board area.

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I’m still not sure as of the moment if all the necessary IOs of the chip where represented by a jumper or an interface connector. This is because I rarely see any test points in the board for debugging the signals.

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Computer Interface

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The basic connection that you can use to connect this board into the PC is by using the In-Circuit Debug Interface USB port. It is a good thing that this board has already an ICD interface which means lesser dangling parts for the PC connection. The other connections that you can communicate with the development board are through the USB host/device/OTG port and the Ethernet port.

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PROGRAMMING THE BOARD

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Software

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There are 4 IDE software cds included in this kit which are IAR Embedded Workbench, code_red Red Suite, Keil Microcontroller Development Kit and TI Code Composer Studio. Among these four tools, I have preferred to use the CCS first to evaluate the board. I might try to use the other tools once I’m finished evaluating the development board using the sample programs.

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Some of the reasons why I chose CCS to use first during my evaluation of the kit were due to the following reasons:

  • TI owns it so I expect that it would be easier to get support if I will be having problems in using the IDE on their products
  • It is running on Eclipse which is I am also familiar of.

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If I can still recall correctly, I was able to start programming and debugging the board using the sample programs without getting connected on the internet. The bundled CDs have already included most of the software tools like USB drivers, IDEs and sample programs that I will need in getting my development started in less than an hour.

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By the way, I’m using a Windows 7 64-bit on a 2nd Gen Intel core-i5 processor with 4 GB of RAM.

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Documentation

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By browsing the SDK CD, I was somehow overwhelmed with the list of documents provided by TI. The html file, showing the contents of the CD, has a simple interface but yet sufficient to organize the information needed by a developer.  I guess most of the user’s guides and manuals are already available in the CD. Also, it is a good thing to see that there are already a lot of application notes created using the Stellaris microcontroller.

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Even though there are numerous documents provided, the question still lies on how relevant are the information inside them in getting the development started and done. In using the “Read Me First” document, it instructs you on how to get the USB drivers installed for the In Circuit Debugger Interface and test it using the serial connection. Afterwards, the document points you to the user’s manuals and datasheets.

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Looking at the development kit manual, the 88-page document might be considered enough to get to know the development board. This is also where the schematics were placed in case you’ll need to refer to the hardware connections. In addition, the information about the expansion boards is also found in the appendix section. This could somehow be an advantage in encouraging those who are planning to purchase and evaluate the expansion boards using the kit.

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The next document you might refer to in getting a program downloaded to the kit is the Example Software User’s Guide. In it you may see some short description of what each sample code does. The document may not give you a thorough explanation of the example codes’ function but some parts do give you references where you can get additional information. In the second part of the document, it shows you the necessary information on developing the drivers for each peripheral of the Stellaris microcontroller.

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I was expecting somehow that TI would include a short User’s Guide, together with the SDK CD, about opening and debugging the sample programs using their Code Composer Studio. Probably, they didn’t include it for the purpose of being fair to the other bundled IDE tools in the kit. With this, I just referred to the Help contents of CCS for the instructions. Luckily, everything went well as I see the sample code loaded into the kit through the use of the LCD screen.

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Example Programs

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There are almost 57 sample codes in the StellarisWare Firmware Development Package for the DK-LM3S9D96 Development kit alone. I honestly didn’t have the chance to test all of these sample codes at this time since each has also their own complexities that I still need to understand before I could say how they perform in the board and on the Stellaris microcontroller. For the mean time, I can see that these example codes might be enough to test each peripheral of the microcontroller with the aid of the external components provided by the board.

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By opening each source code, you can see that they are written neatly and complete with inline comments for documentation purposes. The libraries for each peripheral function are already there and all you need to do is to integrate them with your project. I was impressed on how they made these sample programs. However, you should also take note that these files are copyrighted by TI and may not be used for certain open source software.

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You will also notice in the folder of each sample program, there are already files and subdirectories containing project and binary files for CCS, Codered, EWARM, Gcc, RVMdk and Sourcerygxx. It seems that the Firmware Development Package has prepared the files that you will need on multiple IDE tools.

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CONCLUSION

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From my initial use of having this development kit for about a month now, I could say that it may have almost the complete set of external components that a developer or an engineer would need to test the different features of the Stellaris LM3S9D96 microcontroller. Comparing this 9000 series with the 8000 series, I would recommend this kit if you have applications that could use extensively the following features on a microcontroller device: USB full speed (Host/Device/OTG), I2S interface, EPI modes for expansion.

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For its price of being in the above $400 USD range, it may sound as quite expensive for a hobbyist point of view. However looking at the electronic parts loaded in this development board like the 3.5-inch touch resistive LCD panel, on-board JTAG/SWD debug interface and 8MB SDRAM expansion board, it may be worth the price. Also having components for display, touch, sound, Ethernet, microSD card and USB, it seems that you already have a complete set of input and output peripherals for your development and testing environment.

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FURTHER IMPROVEMENTS / SUGGESTIONS

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As of now, I would say that I’m satisfied on how this kit was built and bundled with other components. I could not see any major negatives to improve on it except lowering a bit on its price. It’s ok for me even though they didn’t place any power switch or RS232 port or an analog controller. Probably it would be better if TI will have expansion boards for wireless communications and also for sensors like accelerometers/gyroscopes.

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FUTURE PRODUCT USE

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As I have said on my RoadTest application, I’m planning to use this kit for my project on weather monitoring device which concentrates in getting rain and wind samples. This is more of a measurement and early warning device during typhoon season. I’m still in progress of doing the software high level design and also looking at some possible code samples that I can use for the project. And because of this kit, I don’t need to worry about my display device and other output connections. Instead, I will be focusing more on building my hardware interface for my sensors using I2C connection. I’m really hoping that I could finish a working system, both hardware and software, before summer ends.

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