You’ve probably noticed that day by day more complex hardware gets closer to user. Of course I am talking about microcontrollers and processors. Several years ago it was a challenge to have running Linux on board. Now almost everyone have Raspberry Pi and doing crazy things. As I have noticed not many hobbyists are building their own boards to get things done. There is a wide variety of ready made developing boards depending on size, speed, price that it looks not worth spending time on whats already done. Everyone seems to be grabbing Arduino and building amazing projects. In couple years enthusiasts used to crunch ARM projects like cookies. This is thanks to choice of cheap development boards and improving free software tools. But mostly important role in this is the manufacturers. They finally noticed that hobby market can be powerful driving mechanism. Ignoring it means loosing the game.
Now almost every hardware company is trying to get their development board closer to maker and hacker community. Because they like to build stuff and spread the word about it.
Great example of easy to use development boards are STMicroelectroncis Discovery boards. They come with debugger/programmer built in. You don’t have scratch you head how to flash memory or how to debug your program. We have made couple posts previously on how to set up free development tools and start writing programs for ARM Cortex-M3 microcontrollers. ARM Cortex-M3 are already powerful micros, but eventually you may find yourself at some point when you need more processing speed or features. Then you should start looking for more powerful microcontroller like STM32F407VGT6. STM have great development board featuring this microcontroller – STM32F4Discovery. It packs several great features that may give you stimulus for new great projects. First of all this is ARM Cortex-M4F core microcontroller which extends Cortex-M3 series with DSP instruction and floating point unit. Floating point unit supports single-precision floating point numbers and can perform calculations really efficiently. This feature gives more room to develop intensive routines related to floating point data processing. Other feature that comes with Cortex-M4 is DSP functionality. Here you can experiment with DSP routines effectively. You could write DSP functions for Cortex-M3 as well, but imagine that it would take like 7 cycles to perform single dot product calculation. With DSP feature it can be done with single cycle.
STM32F4discovery board already comes with several handy external components that allow experimenting without melting any solder. There are couple user buttons where one of them is reset, four user LEDs and three for indicating power and communication status. It has 3 axis digital accelerometer. If you need to test DSP skill there is MEMS microphone and DAC with D class amplifier. You can capture sounds, filter with DSP algorithms and hear it on audio output without significant setup. If you need master USB there is also USB OTG. All I/O pins are available as in all discovery boards. Chip Flash memory size is 1MB. RAM is 196KB and processor can be clocked at 168MHz. Price is really ridiculous for such functionality.
If you would like to try different boards or simply add extension modules like touch screen LCD or camera to existing, Farnell has quite a list of these.