Monday, October 5, 2020

LGT8F328P EDMINI board

Earlier this year I purchased a EDMINI board from Electrodragon.  It uses a LGT8F328P chip, which supports the AVR instruction set.  The instruction set timings and peripheral registers vary slightly from the ATmega328P, so it is not 99% compatible as claimed by Electrodragon.  I bought one to see just how compatible it is, and possibly to port some of my AVR libraries to the LGT MCU.

The module arrived in an anti-static bag, inside a padded envelope.  After connecting 5V power to the board, the D13 LED blinked on and off every second, suggesting that it comes with the Arduino blink sketch pre-loaded.  I then hooked up a USB-TTL adapter, installed the LGT board file in the Arduino IDE, and tried flashing a modified blink sketch to the board.  The upload failed, and after some debugging I found that the reset was not working on the MCU.  Neither pressing and holding the reset button nor grounding RST would reset the board.  After contacting Electrodragon, Chao agreed replace the board, with two new boards.  He told me that they see a higher than average failure rate with the LGT8F328P chips.

In addition to Chao's frank comment about reliability, another concern I had about the LGT parts was the lack of markings on the chip.  I suspect LGT sells the parts without markings so vendors can label them with their own brand.  This also makes it easier for more nefarious manufacturers to label them as an ATmega328p.  

When the new boards arrived, the first thing I did was make sure the reset button worked.  After pressing reset the LED flashes quickly three times for the bootloader, and then flashes on and off every second.  However when I tried uploading sketch using the Arduino IDE, the upload still failed.  After some more debugging, I found I could upload if I pressed the reset button just before uploading.  This meant the bootloader was working, but auto-reset (toggling the DTR line) was not.  These boards use the same auto-reset circuit as an Arduino Pro Mini:

A negative pulse on DTR will cause a voltage drop on RST, which is supposed to reset the target.  When the target power is 5V and 3V3 TTL signals are used, toggling DTR will cause RST to drop from 5V to about 1.7V (5 - 3.3).  With the ATmega328P and most other AVR MCUs, 2V is low enough to reset the chip.  The LGT8F328P, however requires a lower voltage to reset.  In some situations this can be a good thing, as it means the LGT MCU is less likely to reset due to electromagnetic interference.

The EDMINI board has a 3V3 regulator which can be selected by a solder jumper.  This is mentioned on the Electrodragon site, but it is not clearly documented which pads need to be shorted to switch from 5V to 3V3.  After a bit of debugging I was able to run the board at 3V3, and was able to use the auto-reset feature.

I do most of my AVR development using command line tools, not the Arduino IDE.  I compiled a small program that toggles every pin on PORTB using avr-gcc 5.4.0, and flashed it to the EDMINI board using avrdude.  Nothing happened.  Since the Arduino blink sketch worked, I know that the LED on PB5 was working.  My conclusion is that the LGT Arduino core must do some setup to enable PORTB.  This is common on modern MCUs such as the ARM Cortex, but on AVRs like the ATmega328p, writing 255 to the PORTB and DDRB registers is all it takes to drive every pin on port B high.

I won't be doing any development work with the LGT MCUs.  Although they are cheaper and can run a bit faster than authentic AVR parts, their compatibility is rather limited.  Any code that relies on the standard AVR instruction set timing, such as my picoUART library, will not work.  The 8F328P cannot be programed with a USBasp, as the native programming interface is SWD, not Atmel's SPI-based protocol.  For a cheap and powerful MCU, the CH551 looks much more interesting.