Electronic Design
Atmel Xplain Highlights ATMega MCU

Atmel Xplain Highlights ATMega MCU

Atmel's Xplain (Fig. 1) is a compact, $29 evaluation kit for Atxmega128A1 microcontroller. The chip  is a 100-pin, 32 MHz general purpose microcontroller with 128 kbytes of flash memory plus 8 kbytes boot flash. Applications have access to 8 kbytes of SRAM. The Xplain adds 8 Mbytes of off-chip SDRAM and 8 Mbytes of flash with its external memory interface. The chip highlights Atmel's picoPower technology that can operate at 1.6V at 12 MHz.

The ATxmega128A1 includes DMA support as well as an AES and DES crypto module. On the analog side, the chip has a 4-channel, 12-bit DAC and a 16-channel, 12-bit ADC. The ADC is connected to a temperature sensor and a potentiometer on the board. The DAC is connected to a small speaker. There are 8 user accessible LEDs and 8 matching push buttons as well. There is also an I2C, SPI and UART interface. The timer and PWM support is suitable for motor control. The USB port provides power and the debug interface. It connects to a PC as a USB COM port. Four headers provide access to 8 digital and 8 analog undedicated I/O ports. Four mounting holes make it a nice platform for prototypes or robotics.

The Xplain kit came in a compact box with little else. The URL for Atmel's Xplain webpage is where I had to go to start downloading everything from hardware diagrams to software development tools. The free AVR Studio is a quick download. I had to provide a USB cable to connect the Xplain board to the PC. Still, a pretty good deal for only $29.

Debugging and programming can be done using the USB port. The board and AVR Studio also supports Atmel's JTAGICE mkII debugger and AVRISP mkII programmer. I didn't try these systems as AVR Studio proved to be sufficient for exercising the hardware.

The online documentation and application notes are not bad. Most of the latter are for AVRs in general rather than for the Xplain specifically. The hardware document helped to get me up and running using AVR Studio. It only takes a couple hours to really wring out the basics but it is not something I would drop on a novice. Any developer with an embedded background will find the documentation sufficient.

The Xplain has sufficient I/O to connect up a number of external devices. It also has more than enough memory for some rather sophisticated applications. This is one area where many of the competing eval kits fall short. One thing the Xplain does lack is a collection of applications specifically designed for it with matching tutorials. Still, all the application notes for the AVR are almost all applicable to the kit with some minor modification. It just takes a little reading. There is plenty of support for AVR Studio. Overall the Xplain is a very nice evaluation platform.


Atmel Xplain website


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