ARM : the ultimate processor?

I started with micro processors in the early 80's. For some silly reason I got myself a copy of the Zilog Z8000 micro processor manual. That was a little over my head, as I was to discover soon. The Z8000 was not an easy micro processor to start with. In complexity it resembled the Intel 80286, but in features it came closer to the 80486, in a time where the 8088 yet had to be developped.
Also, and more important, there were no affordable micro computers built around the Z8000. Rumour has it, that the first generation of cruise missiles and other smart bombs of the era, were equipped with this much processing power. Yet, I was not in the position to aquire one of those, for the sole purpose of stripping its processing engine. And of course, there was the Olivetti home computer based around this chip. But it was way too expensive as well.

So I changed my processor of interest by stripping two noughts: the Zilog Z80. There were plenty of computers running with that chip. So I got myself the

  1. Sinclair ZX 81
  2. Jupiter Ace
  3. Sinclair ZX Spectrum
  4. Amstrad CPC 6128
in that order, scattered over many years. All of them ran with the Zilog Z80A. And I did my share of programming with the Z80. And then the PC era started (around 1988) and in came the computers, in that order. And since these processors were all too complex to fool around with, I started interest in the micro controller. In chronological order
  1. Zilog Z8
  2. Zilog Super8
  3. MicroChip PIC
  4. Intel 8051
  5. National COP
  6. 68HC11
  7. Atmel AVR
and then I came to my senses. All of these micro's are small. Why would I still be satisfied by small micro controllers when there are big micro's as well? So, when FP restarted the topic, I got interested in the ARM line of micro controllers. Or, to put it better: the ARM line of processors. There's nothing 'micro' to an ARM. A full fledged 32 bit processor with GP I/O lines is still a big processor.

ARM : looking around

So Chris Burrows created a page about ARM processor(board)s that can be programmed in Oberon-07 with his Astrobe compiler: and there were some nice boards indeed. The second entry was from Elektor (or Elektuur in dutch). Now, I have a long lasting trauma from Elektuur. All their boards either had serious immediate errors or they would grow erroneous over time. I got several of their boards in the 80's. Either they never ran in the first place, or they ran for a few weeks or months and then they stopped forever. Irrepairably. So now, when I see an Elektuur project, I still get the shivvers. My personal idea about Elektuur: stay away from them as far as possible.
The Elektuur entry in the Astobe list should have woke me up. Yet it didn't. Mainly because took up places 3 and 4. Now, THOSE were nice boards. And: very importantly (for me), no ties to Elektuur. And: look at the price you pay for a marvelously looking board like this: For a meager €35 you get a very neat board with lots of gizmo's. Ideal for the tinkerer who wants to get his feet wet with an ARM. Take a tour on the embedded artists site. It is littered with nice boarda and the company breathes an air of reliability.

So I put all of my old stock of micro processors and micro controllers on Ebay and decided it was time for a change. Change towards an ARM. An ARM to be delivered by Embedded Artists. After the purchase I ran into still more boards, produced by New Micros Inc and marketed in Europe by MPE Forth. These boards looked just as neat as the EA boards, but with one very big advantage: the processors were in the factory loaded with a Forth InterPiler (hybrid of an interpreter and a compiler). You just start minicom and log on to the chip. There you develop and test the program, on chip, without the need for something else. At very reasonable prices!
Later, when looking for a suitable compiler for the EA boards, I found Rowley Associates. Rowley make a great programming environment IDE (CrossWorks) with built in compiler and debugger. Yet they also sell an ARM CrossFire board: CrossFire LM3S102 Evaluation Kit. The board looks even better than the EA boards, AND you get a lifetime CrossWorks licence for the board. And the board has a lot more GP I/O's. And it is targeted at the hobbyist. And it supports Linux. None of these AND's seem to be valid for EA boards. The funny part is, that this board was developped by Embedded Artists for Luminary Microsystems. Perhaps that's why the board looks so great.

Topics covered

Below is a list of topics covered with the ARM environment:

Page created 14 February 2011,