There have always been dozens of ARM options out there for development boards, but — for a variety of reasons — it’s always been a niche interest in the mainstream DIY community. 2012, however, may go down as the the year that ARM and 32-bit finally makes lasting inroads into hobbyists electronics.
There have been a lot of high-profile development tools and established environments embracing ARM in a more official capacity this year than any point in the past, and it’s probably never been easier or cheaper to benefit from the amazing processing power per dollar ratio that modern, low-end ARM Cortex M processors offer.
Interested in taking the 32-bit plunge? Hopefully this guide will give you a better idea of what options you have!
Probably the highest profile ARM adopter this year has been the official Arduino board, the Arduino Due. There have always been ARM-based Arduino boards or at least Arduino-footprint compatible boards out there, but the Due is different in that it has the official stamp of approval and backing of the core Arduino team, which makes it the easiest to purchase option for anyone familiar with Arduino and wanting to be certain that there will be a sufficient number of users online to make using it easy. Based on an 84MHz ARM Cortex M3 processor from Atmel, it packs a lot more punch than the classic 8-bit Arduino UNO, but should be just as easy to get started with. This is the safest bet if you’re just looking for some extra processing power, without having to dig into the intricacies of dealing with low-level peripherals yourself.
The Teensy has always had a good following behind it, but the latest incarnation — the ARM Cortex M4 base Teensy 3.0 — is the most capable device yet. It uses a Freescale Kinetis K-series chip (PK20DX128VLH5), which is based on the ARM Cortex M4. The M4 differs from the more common Cortex M3 chips by adding some DSP-like instructions, and options for single-precision floating-point acceleration in HW. Like previous versions of the Teensy, it allows you to use an IDE you’re probably familiar with from the Arduino platform, but is perhaps a bit more friendly if you want to get a bit closer to the bare metal without having to dive straight into the deep-end.
The 500-lbs ARM gorilla in the room in 2012 is of course the insanely popular, incredibly powerful, surprisingly easy to use Raspberry Pi.
Aside from having a great team behind it, and a huge following in the larger HW, computer science and DIY world, it almost certainly represents the best processing-power-to-dollar ratio out there ($35 … come on!).
Need some serious processing power without having to learn all the ins and outs of getting embedded Linux up and running yourself? Want to mess around with rich SW or OS development or add easy network connectivity without worrying about breaking expensive HW? Want to get start working with modern HDMI displays or any LCD television for custom games on the cheap? You can’t do better than the Pi, and as it looks close to hitting 1,000,000 boards sooner than anyone could have imagined, you can be sure answers to your questions are out there.
Added Bonus? Adafruit has a great Raspbian-based distro called Occidentalis that makes developing with the Pi painless and you’ll be having fun writing your own code in no time!
Have a look at our many Raspberry Pi tutorials in the learning system to get started!
Interested in real bare-metal ARM development without breaking the bank? The LPCXpresso family has really taken off in recent years, and includes a wide variety of ARM Cortex M0 and ARM Cortex M3 chips from NXP’s popular LPC family, combined with a free Eclipse-based IDE and an on-board HW-debugger so that you can step through your code line-by-line and start doing complex development and debugging for about 20 EUR/$30.
There are a number of boards available in the ecosystem, but if you’re looking for the best value I’d suggest the LPC1769-based boards. The boards are all the same price, but the 120MHz ARM Cortex M3 based LPC1769 has every peripheral you’re likely to want, including a generous 512KB of flash and 64KB of SRAM. Have a look at the LPCXpresso Forum for a fairly active online community around these popular boards and chips.
This is a good option if you want something that you can easily migrate to a manufacturable, commercial product, though the learning curve is higher as well.
The boards are available from a number of retailers, so a quick search on Google should turn up something local, or via a distributor like Mouser.
Also based on the popular LPC1000 family from NXP, MBED is a very easy to use online platform with two chips available. The same LPC1769 mentionned above, and the smaller, very power efficient Cortex M0-based LPC11U24. This is an extremely easy way to prototype and test ideas, with a lot of libraries available for complex tasks like NFC communication (we have an mbed kit for this based around the Adafruit PN532 Breakout), Internet access, Bluetooth, and almost anything else you can think of.
While the online environment is very easy to use and quite pleasant if you’re mobile, mbed now also offers the option to export your online projects to an offline toolchain or IDE, including project export options for LPCXpresso and GCC, and Keil’s commercial uVision IDE, amongst other popular toolchains.
If you’re really interested in understanding the details of ARM’s most common deeply embedded processors, the ARM Cortex M0 (low power, and low cost) and the ARM Cortex M3 (much larger instruction set), the two best books you can purchase are the ‘Definitive Guides’ from ARM-employee Joseph Yiu: The Definitive Guide to the ARM Cortex-M0 and The Definitive Guide to the ARM Cortex-M3 (be sure to get the second edition of the latter!).
They’re both excellent books and very accessible, and any geek would be happy to find either or both of these under they’re Christmas tree! I’m crossing my fingers hoping for an M4 version, but the beauty of ARM is that each chip builds upon the instruction set of lower versions, so the information covered in the previous books applies to the M4 as well … although it’s worth having both the M0 and M3 books since they both contain very valuable information.
Here are your 2012 shipping deadlines for ordering from Adafruit. Please review our shipping section if you have specific questions on how and where we ship worldwide for this holiday season.
UPS ground (USA orders): Place orders by Friday 11am ET – December 14, 2012 – Arrive by 12/24/2012 or sooner.
UPS 3-day (USA orders): Place orders by Wednesday 11am ET – December 19, 2012 – Arrive on 12/24/2012.
UPS 2-day (USA orders): Place orders by Thursday 11am ET – December 20, 2012 – Arrive on 12/24/2012.
UPS overnight (USA orders): Place orders by Friday 11am ET – December 21, 2012 – Arrive on 12/24/2012.
UPS International: Place orders by Monday 11am ET – December 17, 2012. Can take up extra time due to worldwide delays and customs. Should arrive by 12/24/2012 or sooner.
Please note: We do not offer Saturday service for UPS.
Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas, no UPS pickup or delivery service.
Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, New Year’s Day, no UPS pickup or delivery service.
United States Postal Service, First Class and Priority (USA orders): Place orders by Friday – December 14, 2012 – Arrive by 12/24/2012 or sooner.
USPS First class mail international (International orders): Place orders by Friday – November 23, 2012. Can take up to 30 days ore more with worldwide delays and customs. Should arrive by 12/24/2012 or sooner, but not a trackable service cannot be guaranteed to arrive by 12/24/12.
USPS Express mail international(International orders): Place orders by Friday – December 14, 2012. Can take up to 15 days or more with worldwide delays and customs. Should arrive by 12/24/2012 or sooner.
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