Electronic Design

Minis 2: Silicon Labs 8-Bit Kits

On of the problems I always face is what kinds of kits to review. In general, I like to examine something that will get a developer up an running quickly. This usually means a full fledge development kit but names can be deceiving. Many vendors have kits that are designed simply as a hardware evaluation tool while others are development kits sufficient to get started on an application but often limited by program size, development tool features or time.

In Silicon Labs has a range of development products and calls them evaluation kits, reference design kits and development kits. The eval kit I looked at was the $29 Embedded Ethernet Evaluation Kit. It consists of the CP2201 Evaluation Board (see Figure 1) that contains a CP2201 Ethernet controller and a C8051F340 8051-compatible 8-bit microcontroller. The board has a light and temperature sensor.

The kit is designed to highlight the chips. It comes with built-in firmware that runs the CMX TCP/IP stack and web server. It also has SNMP management support. What it doesn’t have is a way to easily evaluate your own software. It is possible to download new firmware via the Ethernet connection and the bundle CD has all the tools from Silicon Labs and Keil but good luck on finding the format for the firmware download or a way to debug it. Its too bad since the package is extremely compact and has untapped interfaces. Maybe the information will show up on Silicon Labs website sometime.

Moving up a step is the $49, C8051F411-based Voice Recorder Reference Design Kit (see Figure 2). This kit includes support similar to the eval kit with a set application bundle with the system. This differs in that the source code is provided along with the software development tools. The missing factor is the ability to download a new application but only because the debug module is not included with the kit. For that you need the full development kit discussed later.

The voice recorder application uses DPCM (Differential Pulse Code Modulated) compression to convert 12-bit samples of the ADC and IDAC to 6 bits at an effective sampling rate of 8 kHz. The board has a built-in microphone. The DAC can drive the headphones that are included with the kit.

The nice thing about this kit is quality of the demo software, the complete source code and the ability to start development work although that does mean looking into the $69 C8051F410DK Microcontroller Development Kit (see Figure 3). A $99 kit is available for the C8051F064.

This is the starting point if you plan on doing some real coding. It has the same software packed with the other two kits but it has one key element lacking in the other kits, a USB-based debug mode. This connects to the board under test using a short ribbon cable.

The development kit is suitable as a standalone system. It includes a target board with a serial and debug interface along with a connector that can be used with other boards from Silicon Labs such as an Ethernet adapter. It can also be used for custom boards you develop. This is handy because there is no patch area on the target board. There are plenty of configuration jumpers.

The wizard in the IDE is capable of handling a range of Silicon Labs 8051 chips. As with most microcontroller vendors, Silicon Labs has a range of development kits. There is also a stepper motor reference design kit and wireless support for 2.4GHz ZigBee (see “Zigbee Kits,” ED Online 11570) and 802.15.4.

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