TI LaunchPad: First Impressions.

LaunchPad
Meet the LaunchPad

I’ve been playing with the TI LaunchPad the last day or two since I’ve been home in the US. I ordered two when they launched, but I was abroad and only just started playing with them, and I have some first impressions to share.

If you haven’t heard about the LaunchPad, it’s essentially Texas Instruments’ unofficial attempt at breaking into the hobbyist market currently dominated by the Arduino platform and Microchip’s PIC line. TI naturally has an extensive microcontroller product line as well (the MSP430 series), but typically these chips have found use in industrial designs since they fall into the “extremely low power” category of controllers. (Likely) looking to change that, and at least looking to get young developers and students hooked on the MSP430 line, TI recently developed and launched the LaunchPad development platform as what appears to be an MSP430 based direct competitor for Arduino. Perhaps most importantly, they are selling it for $4.30, almost certainly at cost or loss. You can read more at the link above.

The first thing I notice trying to get the thing up and running is that the packaging and general product is very nice. The board is small but not skimping on functionality for this type of purpose. The box which is attractive and protective) includes a MiniUSB cord, some stickers (a nice touch), some headers and a crystal, and maybe coolest, a second IC. Two ICs AND a dev board for $4.30! That alone is worth it. The board is nicely solder masked (red) and silkscreened (labels for all components and board functions, logo). All in all, it’s a nice package, especially for the cost.

The included demo is cool and reasonable: the IC prepopulated to the board (the MSP430 G2231) includes an onboard temperature sensor (or maybe the ADC samples an input diode or something, details on the temp sensor are unclear after a few minutes of research). By just powering on the board, the LaunchPad compares the current temp to the temp at startup and lights a green (greater) or red (lower) LED accordingly. The LaunchPad also reports the temperature over UART to the virtual com port, so a simple serial reading application on the computer can monitor it (demo implementation in Processing available for download from the wiki above).

But here’s where the headaches start. For comparison, I’m going to start by describing the Arduino experience: on Windows, Mac, or Linux alike, download the Arduino IDE (you can’t really call it that, but it does integrate an editor, a debugger, and a serial terminal). On Windows, you then install it. On Mac, you copy the download to /Apps. On linux, you either double-click the downloaded package or you used a package manager anyway and you’re already done. And keep in mind, this is by hobbyists for hobbyists.

In contrast, there are two software packages for the LaunchPad, IAR and Code Composer Studio. I’m still unclear which does what. They are both Windows-only, Mac and Linux are both officially unsupported, though if you’re adventurous you can compile and debug on the command line. Moreover, the installation on Windows 7 is anything but smooth. My first attempt to install IAR failed and, as I write this, I haven’t yet tried again since I’m still trying to install CCS (for which I’m on attempt two, attempt one stopped responding). While the CCS install has finished, it experienced so many errors that I can only cross my fingers that things will work.

That’s pretty unfortunate since the device looks promising on the hardware side. For now all I can hope is that the software does work and I don’t run into too many issues with USB support in my virtual machine. With any luck, Installation will be the end of my major problems, since the LaunchPad is pretty hard to refuse at $4.30 and 220µA/.5µA/.1µA current draw in active/standby/off.

13 Comments

  1. qwert
    August 5, 2010

    hey can you suggest me how to use TIMER UART for transferring a character from keyboard to microcontroller…..

  2. […] I could have done something like get another microcontroller (I have a few MSP430 value line parts lying around now) and make essentially an ohm meter, using a GPIO pin to output 1 or 0 to the Arduino's input […]

  3. Evelyn
    September 21, 2010

    I was able to get Code Composer Studio to download the original project through the sample they provide. However, be forewarned, you will not have access to a debugger unless you buy some module from TI.

    To get the MSP-EXP430G2-Launchpad program to compile I had to do the following(not in any particular order, this is just from memory):

    Import the project.

    Update Code Composer from Update Manager.

    In main.c change the #include “msp430x20x2.h” line to #include “msp430g2231.h” since apparently they used another microprocessor on this project and did not update their files.

    You have to change the linker file to the correct microprocessor (lnk_msp430g2231.cmd). To do this, create another project using the correct settings for the MSP430 microprocessor and build it so that it creates a linker file for the msp430g2231. Then copy it to it’s directory and delete the original linker file.

    I don’t recll anything else at this point. Good luck.

  4. Mitch
    November 1, 2010

    I’m puzzled that so many have jumped to the conclusion that the Launchpad represents a foray, official or unofficial, into the hobby market.

  5. November 1, 2010

    What, exactly, puzzles you? From a cost perspective, the two micros included in each package can be had in quantities of one for $3 for the pair. $1 for a development board? No. They’re selling this thing at or below cost. And free shipping too? This is meant to hook users. Then from the LaunchPad wiki itself: “LaunchPad is an easy-to-use development tool intended for beginners and experienced users alike for creating microcontroller-based applications. At $4.30, the LaunchPad offers everything you need to get started with your projects.” Intended for beginners. Cheaper by an order of magnitude (half of one, anyway) than any of their other development boards. Advertised left and right as open source. This thing is DEMANDING recognition as a direct arduino competitor.

  6. Marcus
    January 7, 2011

    The temperature sensor is integrated in the MCU itself.

    I use GCC for compiling and some other utility for uploading, but I don’t remember what it was called; on Ubuntu. Easily found with Google. I bought two and one is kaputt now, I think, as it will not accept anything that I try to upload to it. It was some weeks since I tried so maybe someone found a solution to it but at that time I was s**t out of luck.

  7. January 11, 2011

    I had one “die” that way. Try reducing the baud rate to 2400 and then loading. That fixed mine.

  8. January 14, 2011

    seems like their next attempt is the eZ430 USB Donge with the same controller that they are giving away for free as well. As a Mac user i’m seriously turned down by the idea to run the software in virtual machine or some other hacks to get it running.
    Looking at what mBed has just shown off and Arduino does since the first USB boards i think TI till doesn’t get it. Okay the mBed is more expensive but for how easy to use it is and looking at the features i think it’s a decent deal.

  9. rbwilliams
    March 9, 2011

    I got really excited about this reading today’s hackaday blog entry:
    http://hackaday.com/2011/03/09/header-file-brings-arduino-sketches-to-the-ti-launchpad/

    I have not tried this yet, but I am a little suspicious that it will still turn into a big headache.

    I am willing to pay a little more and have something that works for me every time, and develop something in minutes. For me, right now, that is the picaxe!

  10. Colin Brown
    March 12, 2013

    A friend of mine says the Launchpad is just as easy to use as the Arduino using Energia, http://energia.nu/

  11. March 12, 2013

    Back a couple years ago when the LaunchPad came out, I saw that and thought it looked cool, but it was too immature to be useable. It looks like it’s had solid development though, so thanks for pulling it out of the memory hole for a re-look!

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