ESP32uesday: The ESP32-S3 is More Than a Fancy S2

I’ve made this mistake. Others have made this mistake. One might think from the name and product description that the ESP32-S3 is simply an S2 with added Bluetooth flair. It’s got the same CPU core and a lot of familiar-sounding peripherals…and the name has a bigger number, after all.

If you’re working at the higher, abstract levels…CircuitPython, Arduino libraries, communicating with sensors over common protocols like SPI or I2C…it’s reasonably safe to think of it like that.

If you’re writing those libraries though, or tickling any peripherals at the register level, you might be in for surprises. A fair bit of code will simply carry over, as many peripherals (GPIO, timers) are implemented the same on both chips. Others, as I’ve found out the hard way, have evolved, and certain S2 code won’t even compile on S3 due to register changes…similar to what you might have seen when moving “OG” ESP32 code to the S2. Dedicated GPIO (mentioned last week) is unique to the ESP32-S2, not present in prior or subsequent generations. The S3 splits out the I2S and LCD controller peripherals into completely distinct things; one’s no longer a peculiar special case of the other. So…you might encounter some of this if you have low-level code that’s explored the weirder nooks and crannies of the S2.

Complexifying matters, the S3 documentation is still a work in progress, with a couple of chapters still unfinished and some accidental copy-and-paste occurring elsewhere. For the time being, the best way to avoid confusion about the availability of a peripheral may be to cross-reference each chip’s Technical Reference Manual, the ESP-IDF Programming Guide, and skimming the header files and esp-idf examples to verify what peripherals and registers really exist. And also, not to assume things. There’s a lot in common, but not everything in common.

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