Microcontroller Shootout – Texas Instruments MSP430

launchpad-mspexp430g2-01Ok guys and girls, time for another development board. Today we’re looking at the Texas Instruments MSP430 Launchpad, or more specifically, the MSP-EXP430G2

We’ve never actually played with one of these before but added it to the list as a suggestion from Alex Bradbury on Twitter. Once the board arrived, we opened up the packaging and were pleasantly surprised. Inside we found of shiny new dev board with an M430G2553 chip installed along with an M430G2452 chip, a 32khz crystal and a set of female headers in case you want to swap the factory installed male headers (or maybe to build your own shield). At first I couldn’t work out the difference between the two chips but going back and reading the quick start guide which was supplied with the board, it turns out that the pre-installed¬†M430G2553 includes a USCI module which is capable of hardware UART.

IMAG0147I’ll quickly mention that the board does support expansion boards but instead of being called shields, they’re called Booster Packs. I’m a bit of a sucker for the little things when I’m looking at, well, anything really but there was one little thing about the Launchpad that caught me off guard and I loved straight away. The underside of the board has little sponge feet attached. It’s a great idea and I wish all these types of development boards came with them. The first thing I remember doing with my Arduino was fitting a set of feet.

Texas Instruments have done a lovely job with the website for their Launchpad line of products. The site makes it very easy to find exactly what you’re looking for and has plenty of information to get you started. They also offer two different programming environments. One is called Energia and is open source, the other is TI’s own Code Composer Studio. I imagine most beginners will prefer the Energia option for the simple reason that it’s the same as the Arduino IDE. That doesn’t mean that TI have stolen anything from Arduino, in fact, the IDE is built from several other technologies that all work together.

mspblinkEnough of the waffle, let’s get an LED flashing. As you can see, the Energia software has a nice red colour to it to match the board itself. This also helps you to remember which board you’re writing for if you regularly use the Arduino. As with the Arduino IDE, the Energia IDE comes with example code to get you started straight away. I opted to use one of the two onboard LEDs to test the code. One immediate difference from the Arduino is that you don’t declare an int for output pins (at least not for flashing an LED) but address the pin directly.

I’m not going to look at the Code Composer Studio method of programming in this article but will cover it at a later date. I personally think that Energia has everything for the beginner / hobbyist and that CCS could be a little too advanced for basic projects but I’ll have a play with it and give it an article all of it’s own.

One other thing to mention before I finish with the obligatory flashing LED photo is the example code that comes pre-loaded onto the chip when you unbox it. Instead of simply having the LED flash to show that the board is working, TI have gone a step further and given an example of the internal temperature sensor of the chip. Basically, when you power up the board, you see the onboard LEDs flashing alternately. When you press the onboard press switch, the chip uses the current internal temp as a benchmark. The clever bit comes when you start to change the temperature of the chip. If you wrap your hands around the board to increase the temperature, the red LED will grow brighter. If you then cool the chip down to a lower temp that it’s initial reading, the green LED will grow brighter.¬†It’s a simple little thing but it shows off some of the features of the board, such as reading the internal temperature and then controlling LEDs with PWM. I liked it anyway.

It's flashing... honest

It’s flashing… honest

Now it’s time for the much anticipated still image of a flashing LED….

To finish the article up, I’ve got to say that I really like the MSP430 Launchpad. It’s a nice, simple device and for the price, can give the Arduino a run for it’s money, especially for hobbyists and beginners with a lower budget available. I’m looking forward to seeing what projects I can integrate the system in to. If you’ve never looked at one before, I recommend checking it out.

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