Review of the Stellaris LaunchPad

Alex wrote a review of the Stellaris LaunchPad. This is Texas Instrument’s latest development board in the LaunchPad series. It is built around the Cortex M4 microcontrollers.

All in all, AWESOME little boards for $5! Especially considering that, once they’re available wholesale, the bare chip goes for $4.40@1kU, and there are two on the board!


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  1. The reason I haven’t ordered one of these yet is that even an excellent $5 hardware deal is worthless if you’re stuck using a cut down commercial Windows toolchain. Is there any reasonable way to work with this board in Mac OS or Linux, does anyone know?

    1. There’s some support for Cortex-M4 in OpenOCD, and I expect it to improve quickly now that there are cheap boards available. It’s possible you’ll need an external JTAG interface, but those are a dime a dozen these days. Other than that you’ll need a suitably configured cross toolchain with GCC 4.6 or newer, and there are plenty of prebuilt packages available for both Linux and OS X if you don’t feel like rolling your own.

      1. Yeah, maybe I should just buy one or two and keep them around for when the tools are ready. It still kinda sucks that vendors see the developer market for these things as being Windows-only.

      2. [RANT ON]
        I don’t understand why anyone would do a self-imposed “vendor lock-in” on themselves. But everyone is entitled to their own opinion so I really can’t complain about it. Still, I’m curious of why.

        As for myself I’m more flexible in my choices. I just use whatever is reasonable for the current situation in regards of requirements, legacy systems and available resources. I’ve got boxes running Windows, a few flavors of Linux (manly Debian and RHEL) and Solaris in the datacenters I’m responsible for. I don’t really care if my developers are coding new projects in Java or C# and if they are using Windows or Linux workstations as long as the team are in agreement of the language. Most of the time I couldn’t care less if a standalone project is using mysql, mssql or oracle as long as I have a experienced DBA for it.

        For hobby purposes I switch between Atmel and Microchip stuff and C/assembly as my mood and requirements dictates. My mood (and sometimes external requirements) also determines if I wear blue jean and an old tshirt with a Casio watch or an Armani suit and a Rolex to work.

        I really don’t care – I use what’s available and most convenient. It makes life so much easier. :-)

        But what’s really pissing me off is all the bloatware the manufacturers put on the laptops. It’s a hell to clean up. Any why can’t they give me a proper rescue DVD instead of using 20 GB out of a 128 GB SSD disk for a rescue partition? Arrgh!
        [RANT OFF]

      3. Okay, hint taken. I’ll take my prissy UNIX preference somewhere else.

        And by the way, if I was doing this for work, not only would I not care about $4k/seat developer tools and whatever platform it takes to run them, but I wouldn’t care about $5 dev boards either. I doubt TI is expecting to get these chips in the next big smartphone on the basis of cheap LaunchPad pricing, but what do I know. Not enough to ask questions here, apparently.

      4. Sorry bruce, I didn’t mean anything against you at all. I super liked this part:

        But what’s really pissing me off is all the bloatware the manufacturers put on the laptops. It’s a hell to clean up. Any why can’t they give me a proper rescue DVD instead of using 20 GB out of a 128 GB SSD disk for a rescue partition? Arrgh!

        Originally I wanted to follow up with my own non realted rant about forcing signups to services to activate devices. I got a Kobo eink reader – beautiful hardware by the way – and it forces you to have internet and create an account to even use the reader. Wha? What if they go belly up? What if I want to crack it open for the first time without net? What if it crashes hard and needs to be reset on the road?

        The thing is, it’s not an ereader, it’s a portal to a book store. I’ll never buy another ereader that’s pushed by someone also selling books. I also got a Nexus 7 in New York and it was similar in forcing a google account signup to even use the hardware. I don’t like this. It should more or less work out if the box (in the parking lot, lol) the very first time.

        Don’t even get me started on the kobo interface and software. Their store and recommendations dominate the home page with no way to remove it. There’s also absolutely no way to organize things in a sane manner. I put my collection of 1000 datasheets and 500 project Gutenberg books on it, all nicely organized in a file structure, and it shows them as a flat list with 100 pages… I could organize them into “shelves” on the device, but with eink refresh rates that’s maddening. Their bloatware store desktop software allows you to organize purchased books from a PC, but can’t import anything else. Maddening.

        But I should be answering emails and editing video so I stopped a little short :) Sorry, I didn’t mean any disrespect.

    2. The toolchain isn’t “cut down”, if my “cut down” you mean crippled by a time-limited license or the amount of flash that you’re allowed to program for. Use of all TI development boards and debug pods allow users to use un-crippled versions of CCS (which was Eclipsed as of CCS4, but better done in CCS5). It is true that you’re not entitled to an un-crippled license until you move off of your devboard (although I’m not sure what happens vis-a-vis your TI programming/debugging pod).

      CCS5 definitely runs on Linux but I don’t now first-hand about download/debug since I haven’t used it there myself. I don’t know about MacOS because I don’t GAF about MacOS.

      Hope that clears something up, somewhere, to someone.

      1. Hey Bruce… Sorry for coming off a bit strong, but ranting is fun… Ask Dave at eevblog :-)

        But I’m still interested in why so many people are requiring open/free software and OS’es.

        I understand it from a cost perspective – if I need to farm out 50 read-only copies of a database I’d rather use a free (as in beer) os and db than spending a million dollars a year in Oracle licensing fees But running software on Linux is not the same as being free as in beer or speech. I have an licensed ARM toolchain on Linux that is abut $3000.

        Then we have the guys that makes a living out of being the “militant vegans” of the open source community like Stallman.

        But I can’t understand why so many average Joe’s hackers refuses to use commercial products and requires their stuff to be free (as in beer as well as speech).

        But back to the issue at hand here. I’m not sure I’m understaning the problem – is it that there are no Linux toolchain available or is it that there are no zero-cost toolchain?

        If it is the latter I agree with you – selling a heavily discounted board without a zero-cost toolchain is pure stupidness, they could just as well charge $250 for the boards or give them for free to eligible companies.

        If it’s the former I really can’t see the problem of only catering for the by far most common OS – as long as there are a zero-cost toolchain without any major crippled functionality.

        But of course it would be nice to be able to have a fully open and free platform independent toolchain. That is as long as it’s not affecting the usability, many platform independent systems (for instance the Arduino IDE) have a look&feel and usability that takes me back to the 80’ies.

        Sublime Text 2 on the other hand is looking and working just fine in both Win/OS X/Linux – I just love it.

      2. @asdf @Matseng It’s about being allowed to work in your preferred environment.

        Even if your preferred environment is the 2% one? I too wish Linux had won, but this train left a long time ago.

        And hey… why aren’t we ranting about $300 $60 J-Links? There’s a witch that needs a good burnin’.

      3. @ewertz: Your preferred working environment is the one where you are most productive, and have the tools you know best. Why would you not want to use it?

  2. The Stellaris also doesn’t have an external memory controller, so you can’t expand it from what it is (e.g., put embedded Linux on it)-:

  3. Someone took the time/trouble to port Arduino to the MPS430 – wonder if it can/will be ported for this? Sometimes i want easy/simple/fast – and Arduino is definitely that.

  4. Stellaris are great micros, but the issue is availability… Luminary Micro had delivery issues in the past, but this has gotten worse since TI acquired them. If you only use these micros for hobby purposes then the availability issues are not a big deal… but if you use them in (even small) production volumes you are in trouble… just a FYI…

    1. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature — limited availability is how they keep their power consumption low (which Luminary epically failed on).

      I hope they pull this one out. They’re getting squeezed by competitors on both sides — NXP and ST on the high side and Atmel and Freescale on the low. I can’t help but think that the $5 board is just a grab for attention. I’d like to be able to look back a year from now and say “Nice save, TI”.

      They also have M0+ coming along to put the thumbscrews on the MSP430. They need to put some serious resources into that technology too, otherwise it’ll be an also-ran too. Since FRAM isn’t their own technology (and now in the hands of a direct competitor), I’m unsure that that alone will save it, if that’s the only way they plan to keep MSP430 competitive.

      These are good times for MCU consumers, but brutal for MCU makers. A lot of the game now is where they are historically horrific — software.

      1. Ewertz,

        That is funny… I never thought of that before! It is really too bad, as the Stellaris parts and their Stellarisware software package is really quite good.

        As for competitors, I see ST and Freescale being the main ones for Industrial purposes… For example Freescale’s iMX28 series is only around $7, and has DDR/LCD support, a builtin PMIC, an ARM9 @ 450 MHz and has a lifetime of 15 years!

        As cor NXP/Atemel …NXP is waffling right now and appears as a rudderless ship and Atmel is a bit volatile with regards to part obsolescence/availability.

        Indeed, lots of choices… maybe too much :) as I am having a hard time deciding…


      2. The TI people are the first to admit that the power-saving features in the first Stellaris parts was horribly broken.

        I haven’t had the time to get into StellarisWare yet, but they’re definitely trying to get on the software boat. I’m glad they came around on their support of CMSIS decision though — it didn’t look good for them not to support it, no matter how reasonable StellarisWare may be. I’m always wary of their software in particular because I’ve gotten more than one dev kit from them that didn’t work out of the box. I am looking forward to playing around with this board though (although less than the Freescale board, actually).

        Regardless, I’m happy to see that numerous MCU vendors are seeing the light that development software is at least as important as the silicon. I also have a soft spot for them being the first(?) to break the $20 devtool barrier with their MSP320xxF2013 USB stick a number of years ago. Entry-level dev kits everywhere (ok, except for Freescale last week) have been affordable ever since.

        Did anyone hear the rumor that I’m starting about the OMAP5 $28 LaunchPad with on-board GPS, OLED and DLP keyboard due out before the end of the year? Boots right up into KDE, announces with 7.1 audio and can self-host for development. That would…I mean, that will be awesome…!

  5. @bruce and @matseng: Look at both of your respective arguments in economic terms: especially in the hobbyist community, 100% open source is totally desirable because it’s understood that everyone has time, but not money. If you’re spending time on learning to code for ARM when you don’t currently know how, by definition you’re willing to spend a lot of time. But if you don’t know how to code for ARM, the chances that you’re currently employed to do so (and thus making money at it) are pretty low (certainly not zero, everyone learns on the job, but you get my point). So the idea is, I want a FOSS toolchain, ideally with a lot of community know-how behind it, so I can get started on low-cost hardware, otherwise only spending my TIME.

    The flip side is if you’re currently making money at something, in which case the paid solution is often better. The idea there is that time IS money, and if I’m being paid a lot of money to accomplish things efficiently, there’s a strong probability that paying $3k for a toolchain that WORKS with relatively little time put into setup and is SUPPORTED by the vendor going forward when you do have problems is likely much more cost effective. If a $3k toolchain saves a couple weeks worth of installation and support headaches over its life in a business environment, it’s paid for itself.

    The key is, neither is better. I personally have no real problem with using the commercial free but limited toolchain as long as it doesn’t stop me getting where I want to go. But at the same time, I like fighting the good fight because, insofar as I have time to spend on electronics, I have the time to do so and it’s not just me that benefits from it.

    So all in all, I’m really happy with what TI is offering here, but I’d definitely like to see an OS toolchain tutorial come out. I’m still stuck in the mud making my STM32F4 work inside Eclipse. Just can’t seem to find the time to finish the tutorial :)

  6. Cool development board at a good price, but as others opined, the Microsoft Windows toolchain is a deal breaker for some of us. My projects are bespoke. The life cycle is long, with no defined end-of-life for the products. With the Windows/IDE combination du jour, I’d be in a real pickle, 15 years hence, if I needed to do software maintenance. I’m enthusiastic about forthcoming ARM 4F cores, but favor open/UNIX/Make/GCC oriented solutions. The UNIX/Make/GCC toolchain is older than dirt, has a concise documentation model, and still works much the same today, on Mac OS X, as it did 20 years ago, on Linux SLS 0.98.

  7. I played with PICs and AVR chips in the past, then with TI MSP430 series. All these chips were supported by a good IDE with simulation/debugging features. Then I decided to try ARM chips and I felt left to my own on coding for them. Sure, there’s Keil and other third party dev software but no direct support from the manufacturer. I tried ST, NXP. You can get the chips but no software. Finally TI came out with Stellaris and support it through their IDE. Awesome! Even though not perfect but at least you get not just some board but also environment that was designed for that board to code in. And yes, it may be just a customized version of generic IDE but at least TI made the effort to provide that and for both Windows and Linux instead of just telling you to try your luck with someone else’s crippled IDE like ST and NXP do. Guess which ARM chip I’m most likely going to use for my next project. Thanks TI!

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