Friday, March 18, 2016

MPLAB Xpress

Recently Microchip introduced MPLAB Xpress.  This is basically MPLAB-X in your web browser.  It looks for all the world like MPLAB-X except you don't need to install anything on your PC.  Just point your browser to the IDE and have at it.

MPLAB Xpress in Internet Explorer

At the current time it looks as if it only supports 8-bit PICs.  Kind of a pity because, IMO, the 8 bit C compiler is trash.  The 16 and 32 bit compilers are ports of gcc, the benchmark for C compilers.  But still, if you like the 8-bit stuff, it is pretty neat.  You can do MPASM in MPLAB Xpress although getting started isn't real obvious.

If you want to use your PICkit online, you do need to install a bit of software.  There is a USB bridge to connect your PICkit to the online IDE.

If you don't have your PICkit connected, the hex file can be downloaded.   Otherwise, you can keep your entire project "in the cloud".  Actually, kinda handy if you want to do development on a tablet or across a number of devices.

To push this model, Microchip offered a free evaluation board.  It is supposed to be available on MicrochipDirect soon, but I couldn't find it today.  The target price was supposed to be quite low, too.

MPLAB Xpress Evaluation Board

This is a way cool little board.  It has a microUSB connector, and when you connect it to your PC it presents itself as a USB drive.  To program the PIC, simply drag the hex file to the USB drive.

The board has a PIC16F18855, a pot, a button, and a few LEDs.  All the pins are brought out to the edge of the board although not all the connectors are populated.  There are a number of demo programs available on the Xpress IDE.

The PIC16F18855 is a pretty impressive little part, even more impressive when you check the Digikey price.

The part includes:
  • 8K words of program memory
  • 1K bytes of SRAM (pretty fat for a 16F)
  • 256 bytes EEPROM
  • 24 channel A/D
  • A DAC
  • A CRC generator
  • 3 waveform generators
  • A numerically controlled oscillator
  • 4 configurable logic cells
  • A data signal modulator
  • Peripheral Pin Select (a huge win, IMO)
  • And of course timers, comparators, PWM, I2C, SPI all the normal stuff
The evaluation board contains the 28 pin PIC in a tiny (4x4mm) UQFN package.  Curiously, the PIC18LF25K50 used for programming is in a larger QFN (6x6mm) package.  The PIC is available in a 28 pin SPDIP and its bigger brother in a 40 pin PDIP if you want to move your development to a more hobbyist-friendly environment.

Digikey currently shows the SPDIP version for under two bucks, and the 40 pin PIC16F18875 for $2.04.  Pretty impressive for all those peripherals.

All in all, a pretty cool way for someone to get started in PIC development without installing anything.

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