I was intrigued when I first talked with Tim Shannon, Directory of Sales at NetBurner. I'm always getting tools that claim to be easy to set up and use. This is all relative, of course, but Tim said that their module-based kits would put most of the others to shame. I am happy to back him up on this. The NetBurner MOD5270 development kit (Fig. 1) I tried out is very polished from the documentation to the installation software. I had the system up and running in less than an hour and coding in less than two. This is very good given that I had not seen the kit until I opened the box.
The kit includes the uC/OS RTOS, TCP/IP stack, and a web server. It comes with a full ANSII C/C++ compiler, the GDB graphical debugger, and device configuration and diagnostic programs. The latter support flash update over a network connection. Low-cost kits normally use a serial or USB port for this type of operation. Most of the kit's runtime is licensed, including the OS and web server.
The 2- by 2.6-inch MOD5270 module is based on a 100-MHz Freescale ColdFire 5270 microcontroller. The module also has 512 kbytes of flash memory, 2 Mbytes of SDRAM, and a 10/100 Ethernet interface. The chip has the following interfaces: I2C, QSPI, GPIO, and three UARTs. The chip runs on 3.3 V at 450 mA.
I dove into the project while only looking at the Quick Start Guide. Software installation was uneventful and configuring the board could not be easier (Fig. 2). Communication between the development software and the board is normally done using an Ethernet connection. The configuration program automatically detects the board and sets up the TCP/IP settings. No rudimentary terminal interface here (although there is one should all else fail).
A sample web application comes already installed on the NetBurner module (Fig. 3). It includes the OS, TCP/IP stack, web server, and remote diagnostic tools, allowing it to be replaced by an application created with the development tools. The sample application (Fig. 4) is really slick since it provides basic documentation and sample web pages that are interactive.
There is a separate project configuration program (Fig. 5) that can create the basis for a project that incorporates NetBurner runtime modules like the web server. It can also include hooks for diagnostics tools like TaskScan. This essentially adds RTOS awareness during development so you can check out the state of the system from the integrated development environment (IDE) while the application is running or stopped. Obviously, each additional module takes up space and processing resources, but a check box is all that needs to change to alter a project's configuration.
NetBurner uses its own IDE called DEV-C++ (Fig. 6). It includes advanced features such as a project creation wizard (slightly less powerful than the standalone application) and concurrent version control (CVS) support. Underneath are the open source tools like the gcc compiler and the gdb debugger. It's an interesting mix of open and closed source tools, but they do the job. With dozens of sample programs to examine, it was a quick matter to come up with simple applications like one that turned on an LED in response to a change in an on-board switch. This is just a variation on a theme of the demo page in the sample application (Fig. 4). It was easy to create HTML and Java-based web pages.
Anyone that is familiar with web pages, C, and sockets can easily put together a program that runs on the NetBurner module in a matter of hours. The fast download and debugging response time using an Ethernet connection is key. Also key is the seamless operation of the IDE in conjunction with the hardware module.
Because the system is module based, it is a relatively simple exercise to migrate from an application that is built in the patch area to a final design. The most complicated piece of hardware tends to be the processor module. It is also the area where hardware problems are likely to occur in a design. Buying a standard module eliminates most of these problems.
It is possible to use your own code or open source code like the eCOS RTOS on the NetBurner module, but it will take more than a couple of days to complete a platform comparable to the one provided by NetBurner. While you will have to balance your costs against licensing costs with NetBurner, in most instances the standard NetBurner solution will be worth the investment.
Licensing and Availability
The NetBurner NNDK-MOD5270-KIT comes with a range of software. The software is covered under one of four licenses depending the package. The most restrictive is the NetBurner Tools license. There is also a NetBurner Embedded Software license and two open source licenses including GPL and Newlib. The latter is more along the lines of a BSD license that has minimal restrictions and applies to the runtime libraries. This allows closed source development if necessary.
The NetBurner NNDK-MOD5270-KIT is priced at $499. It can be ordered online at NetBurner's website.
If you are building an embedded system that will wind up on your own board, NetBurner provides a platform for easily getting started with the software development. You can then license whatever components are needed. The ability to debug and download software updates can be very handy in the field. Likewise, if you create a module-based solution, then simply plugging the module into your own carrier board is all that is required to get the intelligent portion of your design up and running quickly.
If your goal is to get a design out the door quickly, definitely check out NetBurner's NNDKs.