Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Baite Pro Mini review

I recently purchased a Baite Pro Mini board on Aliexpress.
Three weeks after ordering, it arrived by registered mail, exactly as depicted.  This one is different from the other Pro Mini boards I've seen in a couple ways.  First is that it uses a QFN (quad flat no-lead) package ATmega328P instead of the slightly larger and more common QFP (quad flat pack).  The other difference is that it uses a crystal oscillator instead of a smaller resonator.  Crystal oscillators are more accurate, which is useful if you need accurate time keeping.  The board came with no documentation, so I assumed it would work like a standard Arduino Pro Mini.

After opening the package I just soldered on the 90 degree header for the serial connections, then connected it into a PL2303HX USB-TTL adapter.  The red power LED came on, and the blue LED started flashing - indicating the pre-loaded blink sketch was running.  The blue LED is quite bright, even though it uses a 750 Ohm current-limiting resistor.  I selected Pro Mini 5v @ 16Mhz from the Arduino IDE, pressed reset, and tried uploading a test sketch.  Avrdude timed out, so I tried again.  There was only one quick blink of the LED - indicating a short timeout for the bootloader.  In case the board was using optiboot @ 115,200kbps, I changed the upload speed in the boards.txt file, and tried a few more times but still no luck.

I decided to flash a new bootloader so I'd have a known configuration.  I chose the Uno from the boards menu because it's configuration uses the optiboot bootloader @ 115,200kbps.  I connected my USBasp, selected USBasp from the programmer menu, then selected "burn bootloader".
After 10-15 seconds it was finished.  I loaded my test sketch, clicked the upload button, pressed reset on the Pro Mini after the "Running AVRDUDE..." message appeared, and the "Done uploading" message quickly appeared.  My sketch was loaded and running.  Considering the $3.65 I paid for it, I think the Baite Pro Mini is a good buy.

2014/09/22 update:

The Pro Mini boards are now selling for $2.50 or less on Aliexpress, so I picked up another one.  This time I checked the fuse settings with avrdude:
avrdude.exe: safemode: Fuses OK (E:05, H:DA, L:FF)

The bootsz fuse is 01, which is 2Kbyte (1Kword), which confirms they do not come with optiboot flashed (which is only 512 bytes).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

AVR half-duplex software UART supporting single pin operation

Many of the ATtiny MCUs have no hardware UART limited number of pins.  Arduino tiny cores uses the TinyDebugSerial class which is output only, so using serial input requires extra code.  I have written a small software serial UART which can share a single pin for Rx & Tx when a simple external circuit is used.

To understand the circuit, a tutorial on TTL serial communication may help.  When the TTL serial adapter is not transmitting, the voltage from the Tx pin keeps Q1 turned on, and the AVR pin (Tx/Rx) will sense a high voltage, indicating idle state.  When the AVR transmits a 0, with Q1 on, Rx will get pulled low indicating a 0.  R1 ensures current flow through the base of Q1 is kept below 1mA.  When the AVR transmits a 1, Rx will no longer be pulled low, and Rx will return to high state.  When the serial adapter is transmitting a 0, D1 will allow it to pull the AVR pin low.  With no base current, Q1 will be turned off, and the Rx line on the serial adapter will be disconnected from the transmission.

I've written the serial code to work as an Arduino library.  Compiled it uses just 62 bytes of flash, and does not require any RAM (there is no buffering).  As it is written in AVR assembly, it will support very high baud rates - up to 460.8kbps at 16Mhz.  The default baud rate of 115.2kbps is defined in BasicSerial3.h, and can be changed with the BAUD_RATE define.  The library defaults to use PB5 for both Tx and Rx.  It can be changed with the UART_Tx and UART_Rx defines in BasicSerial3.S.  Here's an example sketch to that uses it:
#include <BasicSerial3.h>

// sketch to test Serial

void setup()

void serOut(const char* str)
   while (*str) TxByte (*str++);

void loop(){
  byte c;
  serOut("Serial echo test\n\r");
  while ( c = RxByte() ){

Here's a screen shot of putty running the example:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

nrf24l01+ control with 3 ATtiny85 pins

Nrf24l01+ modules are a cheap and low-power option for MCU wireless communication.  Libraries are available for Arduino, and for arduino compatible MCUs like the ATTiny85.  Controlling the nrf modules usually requires power plus 5 pins - CE, CSN, SCK, MOSI, & MISO.  With pin-limited MCUs like the ATtiny85, 5 pins is a lot to tie up.  On something like the Digispark, with PB3 and PB4 hard-wired to USB+ and USB-, using the nrf24l01+ modules might seem impossible.  Another issue is that although the nrf inputs are 5v tolerant, Vcc must be between 1.9 and 3.6V.  I've designed a simple solution to provide 3V power as well as control the modules with just 3 of the pins on the ATtiny85.

For powering the nrf24l01+ module, a 3.3v regulator could be used, but a cheaper and simpler way is to drop a 5V supply to 3V using a 20mA-rated red led.  Most red LEDs have a forward voltage drop between 1.8 and 2.2V, leaving 3.2-2.8V for the nrf, which is well within the 1.9-3.6V requirement.

Controlling CE without using a pin on the AVR is also easy: just tie it high.  In my setup function, I set Mirf.cePin = 7 as a dummy since the tiny85 only has pins 0-6.  I later commented out the digitalWrite calls in Nrf24l::ceHi() and ceLow(), and removed the Mirf.cePin line from setup() which cut down on the size of my compiled sketch.

I initially thought the CSN line could be tied low, but when I tried it my test sketch was not getting a valid status back from the nrf module.  I also found section 8.3.1 of the datasheet: "Every new command must be started by a high to low transition on CSN."  So in order to control the nrf with just 3 pins, CSN needs to be multiplexed with one (or more) of SCK, MOSI, or MISO.  After a few different ideas, I came up with this circuit:
When SCK on the ATtiny85 goes high for several microseconds, C1 will charge through R1 and bring CSN high.  If SCK is brought low for several microseconds before being used to clock the SPI data, C1 will discharge through D1 and bring CSN low.  High pulses on SCK of less than a few microseconds during communication with the nrf won't last long enough to charge C1, so CSN will stay low.

To support the multiplexed SCK/CSN, I modified Mirf.cpp as follows:
void Nrf24l::csnHi(){
delayMicroseconds(64);  // allow csn to settle

void Nrf24l::csnLow(){
PORTB &= ~(1<<PINB2);  // SCK->CSN LOW
delayMicroseconds(8);  // allow csn to settle

The circuit still worked with a 32us delay in csnHi and 8us in csnLow, but I doubled those values to have a good safety margin.  The delays could be reduced with a smaller capacitor for C1.  Going lower than .01uF could risk CSN going high during the high clock pulses of SCK.

When connecting the nrf module to a tiny85, connect MISO(pin7) on the module to MOSI/DI(PB0), and not MISO/DO(PB1).  Here's the connections required:
nrf module  ATtiny85 pin
SCK(5)      PB2 (physical pin 7)
MOSI(6)     PB1 (physical pin 6)
MISO(7)     PB0 (physical pin 5)

I also changed TinyDebugSerial.h to define TINY_DEBUG_SERIAL_BIT 5, and connected pb5 to the Rx line of my ttl serial module.

Finally, here's my test sketch.  When it runs, it reports a status of 'E', which is the reset value of the status register according to the datasheet.  If you connect things wrong it will usually report 0 or FF.
#include <SPI85.h>
#include <Mirf.h>
#include <MirfHardwareSpi85Driver.h>

void setup()

  Mirf.spi = &MirfHardwareSpi85;

void loop()
  uint8_t nrfStatus;
  Serial.print("\nMirf status: ");
  nrfStatus = Mirf.getStatus();
  // do back-to-back getStatus to test if CSN goes high
  nrfStatus = Mirf.getStatus();
  Serial.print(nrfStatus, HEX);

Update 2014/06/12:
I've noticed that power usage on the nRF modules shoots up if I leave any inputs (CSN, SCK, MOSI) floating.  With my circuit above CSN will never float, but SCK and MOSI should be pulled high or low when not in use, especially for battery-powered devices.

Update 2014/10/04:
I've written another post titled nRF24l01+ reloaded with more details on controlling these modules.

Update 2015/05/23:
I've figured out a way to control nRF modules with just 2 pins using custom bit-banged SPI routines.