Evaluation Type: Independent Products
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?:
What were the biggest problems encountered?: None
Thanks to element14 for allowing me to Road Test this product.
To first explain where I approach something like this, I will give you a little background. I am an Engineer with degrees in Hardware Electronics and Software Engineering. I’m also a hobbyist at home, building little projects that may or may not be helpful, but just for fun. The STM32F4Discovery board sells for $15.
For that you get the:
MCU, 1 MB Flash, 192 KB RAM, a micro USB interface, an audio jack with DAC and driver, intergraded mic, an accelerometer, huge ass header interface.
Not to mention the ST-LINK/V2 embedded debug tool that can also be used to program other STM32 ICs. Wow all that for only $14.87…not a bad deal. Especially considering buying just the STM32F407VGT6 microcontroller alone from Mouser will cost you $16.00.
Straight away, there is not much that comes with this kit, Just pretty good looking Green PCB Board. The board itself and documentation that is in the form of the cardboard insert to the packaging. However, on said packaging is the website (www.st.com/stm32f4-discovery) and a “Getting Started” instruction set. Getting started was simple enough and within 30 seconds of opening the package I had Blue, Red, Green LEDs blinking. I have a lot of USB cables around and I can certainly navigate the web.
The website gives plenty of information, from data briefs to technical notes. There are even a few application notes that go through using different hardware capabilities of the kit itself (such as the audio circuitry). The user manuals are pretty helpful in giving information and examples. For instance, the ‘UM1052: STM32F103xx/ STM32F100xx/STM32F2xx/STM32F4xx PMSM single/dual FOC SDK v3.2’ document gives the chip set architecture and examples on how to interface to different sensors/peripherals – even those not found on the board itself. The ‘UM1472: STM32F4DISCOVERY STM32F4 high-performance discovery board’ document gives good information about the board itself and the hardware that is used. This is especially helpful when going to design interface circuitry for the chip to control. The ‘UM1467: Getting started with software and firmware environments for the STM32F4DISCOVERY Kit’ document goes through each of the suggested development toolchains for use with the development board.
The hardware itself is setup nicely. The board is a clean PCB layout and has all the signals run to external headers for connections. The PCB layout is nice with a medium to high density, component placement is proper to limit inner board interference. The vias are masked, and the solder joints look good.Sadly, the size of the board does not lend itself to many of the breadboard sizes available, but with a little ingenuity you can make it work. There are also various jumper settings on the board that allow changes to certain configurations. With the availability of signals and the documentation for hardware interfacing, the development board is a great tool for the bench top design method. Users can easily see where interfaces are and how to connect to them correctly. From the engineer perspective, all is where it should be. I can find signals and interface my systems to the developer kit easily.
The board also has the ability to replace/repair parts if needed. Engineers are more likely to attack this due to the SMT parts, but a hobbyist can jump in too with practice elsewhere first.
The kit comes with no development tool chain. So, while the price of the board itself isn’t bad for the home hobbyist, the price of the developer chain might hurt. There are different toolchains that are recommended:
Each can get pretty pricey if going in for a full version. However, many of them offer Lite versions for discounted prices, or free. However, functionality will be limited. From the engineer perspective, this is not helpful – but in a work environment I just buy the developer set I need. From the hobbyist perspective, however, this can be a limitation.
If you are just starting in the world of processors, physical computing, etc. you may want to step back to the PIC, Basic Stamp, or Arduino to get your feet wet. While these will not have near the features or power that the ARM has, they will give you a look into the design chain. However, if your teeth have been cut on other development kits before and you have a nice feel for C, then jump in. Keep cost of the software in mind if you do need all the bells and whistles of the Pro version of any tool kit. If the Lite versions give you what you need, then by all means jump in and play with what this board has to offer. Just make sure your first stop is getting the drivers for the ST-LINK/V2,http://www.st.com/internet/evalboard/product/251168.jsp.
I would suggest just downloading the utility program, it has the drivers too and a nice little low level programing functionally that I used to debug than setting up IAR EWARM.
Thank you very much Thomas Jesperson! I will go through these notable information during next project's development. I will upload some pics of Board soon. I did not know about the CooCox CoIDE, it looks cool and use friendly, though have to study it well for better usage!
I knew about the memrystick, though was unaware about external PHY. How can we connect it with the Board? I dont have much information about it, due to my less inclination in that field! My field domainss are robotics & automation, ASIC side more.
Nice and short review. Though I would have liked a coupled of pictures of either the board, the packaging or one of the demo projects running.
But yeah, the STM32F4DISCOVERY board is definitely a bargain and you can do a lot of stuff with the board - add an external PHY and you have a webserver, add a USB memorystick and you have an MP3 player, the possiblities are endless.
For the development environment I can really recommend the CooCox CoIDE which integrates nicely with the free and Open Source GNU GCC and takes care of the compilation.
The IDE is built on top of Eclipse and includes the GDB debugger environment so different kinds of debuggers are also supported, including the on board ST-Link V2 of the Discovery board.
Last but not least it includes a Repository browser where you can search for and include the different Standard Periphirals modules together with different example codes - very handy when you start a new project.