Electronic Design

Dev Kits 2009: Round 1

There have been a lot kits piling up in the labs, so it is time to clear them out to make room for new stuff. As there are so many, I will be taking a look at a few in each review.

This first round includes Rabbit Semiconductor's RCM4300 Dev Kit and Renesas' SubAtomic Particle Demostration Platform. Rabbit Semiconductor's offering is based on the RCM4300 module (Fig. 1). The module is designed for production systems where you provide the base board with any custom interfaces or connectors. The Renesas system is more for demonstration purposes, but provides a complete programming platform for software development.

Rabbit Core
The Rabbit Semiconductor's RCM4300 Dev Kit (Fig. 2) contains an RCM4300 RabbitCore Module that is based on a 58.98 MHz Rabbit 4000 microcontroller. It includes 512 Kbytes of SRAM for data and 1 Mbyte of SRAM for programs that can be loaded from a 2-Mbyte serial flash memory. The chip has 5 serial ports and an 8-channel, 12-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC). The module has a miniSD card slot. The kit comes with a 1 Gbyte flash memory card. There is also a 10Base-T connection.

The RCM4300 is part of Rabbit Semiconductor’s line of plug compatible modules. Versions are available with different memory and peripheral complements. The dev kit comes with a carrier board with a small patch area. A number of standard carrier boards are available as well with a range of connectors as well as additional peripherals such as wireless support.

The Rabbit 4000 outperforms most 8-bit micros and matches or often exceeds many 16-bit platforms to boot. It has 8 DMA channels and even hardware-based AES encryption support. It has 32-bit math instructions making it a challenger for 32-bit micros in many applications. There is even a built-in real time clock with battery backed up.

Smart module design is part of Rabbit’s success. The other is Dynamic C and its associated IDE. This is an extended version of C with features such as co-routines, called co-functions, which are very handy in control applications. I really liked the (new for me) co-statement state machine implementation. The online documentation is extensive and based on the printed version that used to ship with the kits ages ago.

The Rabbit family is supported by a range of libraries and operating environments including the uC/OS-II real time kernel and FAT file system that is critical for the SD flash card support. RabbitWeb and other networking support is extensive. The hardware encryption comes in handy for SSL support.

One of the best things about Rabbit’s kits that I like is how quickly I can get started. It took almost as long to bolt on the module to the carrier board as it did to begin programming. The IDE installs quickly and recognizes the board when connected via the provided cable. There are a number of applications on the CD and more online.

One thing about having lots of support libraries is that you need a plethora of demo apps. There is plenty to keep you busy when checking out the system.

It is not hard to see why Rabbit has been so successful with its line of modules. Getting up and programming is an afternoon effort. The delivery platform matches the development tools and the price and performance are impressive.

Renesas SubAtomic Particles
The $79 SubAtomic Particle Demostration (SPD) Platform from Renesas (Fig. 3) highlights the M16C microcontroller. There are versions for the R8C and H8 product lines as well. Its round circuit board is a novelty, but obviously not a practical platform for expansion or inclusion in another project. Of course, it is not intended for the same kind of environment as, say, the Rabbit Semiconductor RCM4300 module.

What the SPD is designed for is to highlight the features of the hardware and to allow developers to check out the programming and development environment. For this it works very well.

The real centerpiece is the High-performance Embedded Workshop (HEW) integrated development environment (IDE). This Renesas’ home grown IDE has a track record as long as any major third-party product, so it is not only powerful but refined. There is even a COM object for Windows called the HEW Target Server (HTS) designed to control HEW. It can be used for testing as well as training tools.

As with most dev and eval kits, this one is USB-based for interfacing and power. Peripheral support includes audio I/O, a host of switches and LEDs and a light sensor. A header provides access to additional pins on the 16-bit M16C.

In addition to HEW and lots of tech docs on the CD, there are a number of well designed videos that walk you through the development process. These are definitely worth watching if you have not used HEW before. Any embedded C/C++ developer will be up to speed on the system after running through the videos. It took about an afternoon to check out the system.

It took a bit longer to check out the third party products bundled with the system, including those from IAR and Segger. Renesas delivers KPIT open source GNU tools that are integrated with HEW.

Renesas targets the automotive and industrial control industries but these platforms are likely to open the product line to a wider range of embedded developers.

Things To Come
There are still too many kits left over from late last year, but I will hopefully get through them in the next couple weeks. These include a pair of units from Freescale. One highlights their Controller Continuum using 8- and 32- bit microcontrollers. Another is Dialog Semiconductors electronic paper display (EPD) evaluation kit.

So, till next time, happy designing.

Rabbit Semiconductor


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