Tag Archives: msp430

Review: TI’s High-Power LED Driver Evaluation Board

On my desktop, I keep a list of miscellaneous parts I’d like to buy at some point (e.g. power resistors, laser diodes, etc).  Parts not destined for any specific project, just things that I’d like to toy with.  Well for a long time, I’ve wanted to get my hands on some high-power LEDs.  I suppose I’m just a sucker for pretty lights.  But for some reason, I’ve never gotten around to ordering any – probably because I’ve never had a good means of driving said LEDs (and I’m too busy lazy to make my own driver circuit).

Well last week Farnell (Newark in the States) came to my rescue with an offer to send me any product from their site (within a certain price limit) for free.  All they asked of me was an evaluation (this post) and a link to the product on their site.  And which product did I pick?  The TPS62260LED-338, a three-color LED driver evaluation module:

TPS62260LED-338This board hosts three 500mA LEDs (W5SM) from OSRAM.  Each LED is driven by a TPS62260 step-down DC-DC converter.  A low-cost MSP430F2131 microcontroller controls all three drivers via pulse-width modulation.

Out of the box, my first impression: these LEDs are painfully bright (especially that red one – my vision is still spotted as I type this).  They’re not kidding about protective eyewear.  But I wouldn’t want it any other way. 🙂 For most of my testing however, I simply covered the LEDs with about four sheets of paper.  That brought their intensity down to a comfortable level.

I must commend TI on making this board very easy to use and probe.  They’ve provided several nice wire-loop test points for connecting scope probes.  And they’ve even broken out the power and ground connections for people like me who don’t have the proper barrel connector power supply.  I was also pleased to see how they’d integrated heat sinks for each of the three LEDs into the PCB itself using a plethora of plated drill holes.  In operation, the board only just becomes warm to the touch.

But let’s talk about the real highlight of this board: the LED driver circuits.  Because LEDs operate within such a tight voltage range (their operating voltage is actually assumed to be about constant), they’re normally powered by some type of current controller (since the brightness of an LED is proportional to the current flowing through it).  Any yet, this board features three DC-DC voltage converters – devices which take a high input voltage and convert it to a lower output voltage.  So how is this supposed to work?

Well, each converter IC provides closed-loop control over its switching output.  In other words, the TPS62260 measures a feedback voltage and uses this to adjust its output duty cycle.  So regardless of how much current (well, up to 600mA) is being drawn from the output, the converter is able to maintain a fixed output voltage.  But here’s the tricky part: you can attach the converter’s feedback measurement input pin to anything (within reason, of course).  In this case, TI has wired each feedback pin to a 2Ω current-sensing resistor (part R9, below) connected in series with each LED.  Each converter will adjust its output in order to maintain 0.6V at its feedback pin (as 0.6V is the internal voltage reference of the converter).  Using ohm’s law, and realizing that the current will be the same in both the sense resistor and the LED, since they are in series, we can determine the LED’s current to be I = V/R = 0.6/2 = 0.3A or 300mA.

LED Driver Schematic

But wait, the current-sensing resistor is fixed, the converter’s internal voltage reference is fixed… so how do we control the current delivered to the LED?  Simply put: we don’t.  Then how can we control its brightness?  Pulse-width modulation.  Imagine flipping a light switch on and off so rapidly that you can no longer detect a flicker.  Then, adjust the ratio of the on and off times.  The longer the on time, the brighter the light will appear.  This is precisely what the MSP430 microcontroller is doing to control the brightness of the LEDs.  In fact, you can see this happening if you wave the board around rapidly while one of the LEDs is being dimmed (in this case, the blue LED):

Pulse-width modulation in action!

That image was captured with a 0.1s shutter speed.  And actually, with that knowledge, we can calculate the frequency of the PWM signal.  I count about twelve blinks of the blue LED there – so twelve blinks in 0.1s yields a frequency of 12/0.1 = 120Hz (a result I confirmed with my IOBoard oscilloscope).  If you’d like to read more about pulse-width modulation, check out my previous post on the subject.

So out of the box, the microcontroller on this evaluation board is programmed to slowly turn on and off each LED in sequence, such that one LED is always fully on while another is being ramped on or off.  This produces a very pleasing color gradient.

Now, according to the manual that came with the board, you’re also supposed to be able to turn the knob on the board in order to manually adjust the color balance.  Unfortunately, this feature did not work for me.  When I turn the knob on my board, the automatic sequence stops and the LEDs hold their current brightness states.  However, they do not change brightness when the knob is turned further.  I’ve probed the knob (which is actually a digital encoder) and believe it to be working properly.  My guess is that somebody just botched up the software.  It happens.

This brings me to my final point of discussion: reprogramming.  The TPS62260LED-338 provides a JTAG header for the traditional four-wire JTAG programmer.  Unfortunately, I do not possess such a programmer.  I was hoping instead to use the MSP430 programmer which is integrated into my LaunchPad development board.  Sadly, I never checked into the details: the LaunchPad programs via the two-wire SpyBiWire (SBW) interface, not the standard JTAG interface.  And of course, the MSP430F2131 does not support SBW.  So for now, there will be no reprogramming.  Of course, thanks to all of the convenient test points, it’s fairly easy for me to just put the micro into reset and drive the LEDs using my own PWM waveforms.  If anyone out there has any tricks for reprogramming though, please let me know!

So in conclusion, I’d say the TPS62260LED-338 is a product worth checking out.  For just over $20, it’s a pretty good deal.  If they’d given it the USB programming interface of the LaunchPad, I’d probably be happier, but then they would’ve needed to lower the current draw of the LEDs, which would’ve been no fun, or required a separate power supply, which wouldn’t have been such a big deal.

Testing TI’s LaunchPad

TI LaunchPadEver since I read Hack a Day’s post on TI’s $4.30 LaunchPad development board, I’ve been itching to get my hands on one. So two weeks ago, while putting together a small DigiKey order, I checked to see if the LaunchPad was in stock. Lo and behold, it was. So of course I immediately added it to my order. This past week, my LaunchPad arrived.

I must say, what you get here for your four bucks and change is pretty impressive. The development board is USB powered and contains all the necessary hardware to program and debug MSP430 microcontrollers (MCUs) in up to 20-pin DIP packages. The kit includes two MCUs, the MSP430G2211 and the MSP430G2231. Both chips have 2kB of flash memory, 128B of RAM, and 10 GPIO pins, but the 2231 also provides a universal serial interface (I²C and SPI only), an 8-channel 10-bit ADC, as well as an internal temperature sensor. The board ships with the 2231 in place and programmed with a nifty temperature sensor program that’s ready to run.

The kit also includes two optional headers you can solder into the 0.1″ pitch breakout connectors on the left and right sides of the board. There’s even a 0.5m USB cable included! The only thing lacking is software, but who wants CDs anyway? Instead, TI offers two free (but limited) IDEs for download on their LaunchPad Wiki.

Now before I delve into my experiences with the LaunchPad, I should let you know that I’m very much a fan of Atmel’s AVR line of MCUs. I’ve been programming 8-bit ATTinys and ATMegas for about five years now and am quite satisfied with their performance. I’ve never touched another Texas Instruments MCU and have only had limited experience with PICs. So, just understand that this is where I’m coming from. I’ll also include a short comparison between the MSP430G2231 and the similar ATTiny24 at the end of this post.

The Project: Does Your Fridge’s Light Really Turn Off?

Ok, call my crazy, but the first thing I thought of when I found out the 2231 had a built-in temperature sensor was, “I wonder how cold my fridge is?” My second thought (having been running tests with a phototransistor last week) was, “I wonder if that light in the fridge actually turns off?” It’s a question I’m certain everyone has asked themselves at one point or another. Of course normal people might just test this by pressing the door switch, but not me (and yes, I know what that means). So here’s what I had in mind:Launchpad Fridge Test SetupI started by modifying the demo program provided with the launchpad to read two analog inputs: the temperature sensor and input A7. I then connected A7 to a phototransistor (which you can think of as a light-dependent resistor) wired in series with an adjustable resistance (a 500kΩ potentiometer) as shown here:

Phototransistor CircuitThe potentiometer is used the adjust the sensitivity of this circuit for varying lighting conditions. That extra 2.2uF capacitor isn’t strictly necessary, it just removes noise caused by EMI and flickering lights. So, I connected the UART TX pin from the LaunchPad to my SparkFun BlueSMiRF module (a nifty Bluetooth serial modem I picked up a couple of years back for a different project). Power for the entire setup is provided by a 9V battery run through a 3.3V DC-DC converter (see my previous post on regulator efficiency).

LaunchPad in FridgeWell there it is – the entire setup powered and running inside my refrigerator. The green light on the BlueSMiRF tells you it’s connected. But as you might imagine, with the fridge being a large metal box, Bluetooth reception was quite poor with the door closed. I had to put my laptop right up against the side of the fridge to get a good connection. But other than that difficulty, the system worked great. And of course, I built a small LabVIEW VI to plot and display temperature and light data on my laptop:

LabVIEW Data Graph (Arrow Indicates Door Closing)The graph on the top indicates temperature in Fahrenheit while the bottom graph plots phototransistor voltage versus time. The red arrow indicates the point at which I closed the fridge door. Now, voltage and light intensity are inversely related in this case. In other words, a low phototransistor voltage means high ambient light. A voltage of 1.5V indicates a total absence of light. So, since the voltage at the arrow jumps from almost zero to 1.5V, we can be confident that yes, the light inside the refrigerator did in fact turn off. Yay!

My Impressions of the LaunchPad

As I was working with the LaunchPad, I kept a few notes about my experience which I’d like to share here. The first thing I’ll mention is that TI is doing a great job keeping lots of useful information on their LaunchPad Wiki. I had no trouble finding the software and information I needed. Plus, they’re maintaining a Learning Community with links to many interesting LaunchPad projects. So good marks for TI there.

In looking through the available IDE options on the LaunchPad site, I decided to go with Code Composer Studio (CCS) because of its higher compiled code size limit (16kB vs 4kB for IAR) and because it’s produced by TI. I must say though, the download and installation of CCS took quite some time, even on my fairly modern T61p laptop, even with just the MSP430 components selected. However, the default layout of CCS suited me fine:

Code Composer StudioAs I mentioned, to develop the code for my fridge project, I started with TI’s demo application, then added and removed bits as needed. Before even touching the code however, I went through it line by line with the datasheet open next to me so that I could start to understand the MSP430 line a little better. I was slightly disappointed in the amount of commenting provided, given that this was a demo application. My feeling is that in demo code, just about every line should get a comment. Also, I noticed one or two comments that appeared to be incorrect (specifically, near the clock divider settings).

I was further impressed by the LaunchPad’s ability to perform debugging with hardware connected. This is something I’ve not done with the AVRs because I’ve never had the proper equipment, only a programmer. But with the LaunchPad, you can actually step through your code line by line and watch the results on your MCU. Very cool.

One thing that struck me as strange was the need to stop the watchdog timer at the start of every program (unless your program makes use of its default settings). It looks like the WDT defaults to a reset every 32768 cycles unless stopped or handled properly. This seems like something that could trip up even seasoned users every now and then.

Comparison Table

Finally, I’d like to show you a feature-by-feature comparison between the MSP430G2231 and the ATTiny24. I’ve selected the ATTiny24 because it provides exactly the same amount of RAM and flash memory as you get with the 2231:

Feature ATTiny24 MSP430G2231
Price $2.52 $2.17
Program Memory 2kB 2kB
RAM 128B 128B
EEPROM Size 128B 256B**
Max. Clock Rate 20Mhz (10Mhz*) 16Mhz
Max. I/O Available 12 pins (inc. reset) 10 pins
Voltage Range 2.7 – 5.5V (1.8 – 5.5V*) 1.8 – 3.6V
ADC 10-bit, 8ch 10-bit, 8ch
Internal Temperature Sensor? Yes Yes
ADC Sampling Rate 15ksps (at max res.) 200ksps
Timers 1x 8-bit, 1x 16-bit 1x 16-bit
Serial Interfaces I2C, SPI I2C, SPI
Architecture 8-bit 16-bit
Active Power @ 1Mhz 540µW* 484µW
Lowest Power Draw 0.18µW* 0.22µW

*Data for the slower, low-power ATTiny24V.
** This chip does not have EEPROM but instead uses flash “Information Memory” for permanent storage, 64B of which is for calibration data by default (this can be changed).

In the above table, I’ve used green to highlight better features, where it seems a clear distinction can be made. Now although the ATTiny24 truly can provide 12 I/O pins, I should note that this requires you to disable the reset pin (via fuse settings). So unless you have a high-voltage programmer available, the code on your chip will be permanent.

Well as best I can figure, these two chips are about equal in terms of hardware. It really comes down to your specific application. Do you need high ADC sampling rates? Then go with the MSP430. Do you need an extra timer? Then get the ATTiny24. Of course, there are other chips within each family that may provide a better match for you. Ultimately, I suspect most people will pick the chip they’re most familiar with. For me, it’s the AVR.

There’s one last cool feature I should mention about the LaunchPad before closing. It can be used program some of TI’s other MSP430 products like the Chronos watch module.

LaunchPad with Attached eZ430-RF2500 Target BoardIn closing, I’d say TI has done a great job with this board. I’ve certainly enjoyed toying with it. Plus, at $4.30 it will certainly help to grow the MSP430 user base. I’m looking forward to using it more in the future. Thanks for reading!

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