Friday, October 30, 2009

Microchip PICKit 3, Web 2.0 and social networks, Check it out mate

Short time ago Microchip Technologies introduced a new Programmer/Debugger tool, the PICkit 3. The plan is that this new programmer will replace the previous PICkit 2 version.

In the engineering community we were very excited about this new product because it now has a PIC24FJ256 MCU, much faster and with more memory than the one used on the PICkit 2. But we've got a little bit disappointed since the new product didn't seem to take advantage of the new MCU and many of the features available for the PICkit 2 were not present on the PICkit 3.

It didn't took long until comments started to show up on the Microchip User's Forum, but Dave Jones from Sydney who runs a very interesting electronics video blog put together a this video with an entertaining review of the PICKit3.

While some argue that Dave's review is not 100% accurate, he really pointed out many of the issues with the PICkit 3.

What Microchip did ?

Did they sue Dave ? No
Did they force him to remove the video ? No
Did they threaten him to shutdown his video blog and You Tube account ? No

They took it as a serious and honest message from the engineering community, and their response started with a direct call from Microchip's CEO, Steve Sanghi.

Dave provided the following update on his blog:

"Since this blog has gone to air and made it’s way all around the Microchip HQ, I have received a phone call from none other than the Microchip CEO Steve Sanghi. In a totally unexpected and rare show of honesty from any corporate person, let alone the CEO, he thanked me for the blog and for raising the issues. They took it as serious constructive criticism (as it was intended). He pointed out a few factual errors on my part which was fair enough, but admitted they could have done the PICkit 3 better and most importantly are working to fix the issues and give customers what they expect.

Any other huge multi-billion dollar corporation probably would have got their lawyers to give me a dressing down, if they cared at all, but Microchip really do care about their products and will happily take constructive criticism seriously at the top level. Such a thing has to be unprecedented surely?

I am absolutely blown away by Microchip’s honesty, and it starts from their CEO down.

Two thumbs up to Steve Sanghi and Microchip!

Not only that, in the era of the Internet, Web 2.0 and social media, Microchip is using the same tools as its customers for a two way dialog. There are several groups on Facebook, you can follow Microchip on twitter, they constantly add videos on YouTube, and guess what, Dave got his video response from Microchip ... Check it Out !!

This shows not only that Microchip is alert at what their customers say, it also shows that with a good sense of humor and recognizing what needs to be done, they do really care about their customers.

By the way, the product development team for the PICkit 3 is active and providing updates on the Microchip User's Forum, and not only they are planning to add the features we expected for the PICkit 3, they also plan to release all source material for the programmer, just like with the PICkit 2, including the source code for the stand-alone GUI that is under development.

This is not only a good example of a company that thrives for excellence, it also shows how the Internet empowers people to have a voice and be listened, and a good way, even after a mishap and what could be perceived as a negative comment, how a company with a right attitude can turn it around and get positive comments of its reaction such as this article.

Wish other large companies had the same attitude and appreciation for their customers.

Thanks Dave, and congratulations Microchip.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

eip-24 and eip-24/100 Preview

After few rounds of feedback from colleagues and debating with myself, I completed the final design for two new embedded TCP/IP boards.

The first batch of printed circuit boards are in the final steps of fabrication and I'll have them soon to complete assembly and testing.

Both boards will have a 16-bit Microchip PIC24HJ128GP202 as the main processor, same form factor and almost identical pcb layout, and same pin-outs.

The eip24 shown above will have a Microchip ENC28J60 10BaseT Ethernet Controller, a 16Mbit SPI Flash memory and a Microchip 25AA02E48 EEPROM with a unique Ethernet MAC Address.

The eip24-100 shown above will have aMicrochip ENC424J600 10/100BaseT Ethernet controller, a 32Mbit SPI Flash memory, and a Microchip 23K256 SPI RAM memory.

Both boards will also have three LEDs for heartbeat status indication or other use, and an RS232 transceiver for the serial interface.

On the drawing board and prototype bench I've right now a piggy-back board that will be compatible with both the eip24 and eip24-100 and that will have a 3x16 DOGM LCD, a microSD card socket, a temperature sensor, a 3.3V voltage regulator, some pushbuttons and a RJ11-6 for ICSP connection to an ICD2/3 or similar PIC programmer.

I'll post another article with additional details of the piggy-back board and an update as soon as the final docs and the eip24 boards become available.

Now it's time to go back to work on the firmware for them that will essentially be based on Microchip's TCP/IP Stack v5.10.



Monday, October 12, 2009

ENC424J600 - nic424 Board in production !!

It took me a while but finally the nic424 boards featuring the new ENC424J600 Ethernet Controller from Microchip are in production and available for ordering.

I had the first batch of boards ready for sale but I wanted to expedite and improve the test and validation process, for it then I designed a small customized "tester" using a PIC24HJ128GP202 as the "brains" for it, taking also avdantage of the analog features to measure voltage and current for the device under test.

Given the similarities of the nic424 with the nic28 boards, and the fact that I had some extra space on the prototype pcb I was using, I allocated some space and added the test pins for the nic28.

Here is an ugly picture (well it's not supposed to be pretty since it's internal stuff) of the finished tester in action.

Connection to all the test points are implemented with retractable pogo-pins which are kept in alignment with a small layer of plexy-glass, once the board to test is in place four large hexagonal separator act as nuts to keep the board in place and apply pressure to the pogo-pins for optimal contact.

The PIC24HJ128 controls power to the device under test (DUT), and using the ADC module measures the supply voltage to the DUT and supply current using a four-leads current sense resistor that feeds the voltage differential over the resitor to an MCP6022 operational amplifier that connects to one of the analog inputs of the PIC24HJ.

The LCD displays the measured values, the DUT MAC Address and together with two push buttons on the side acts as the user interface for several options and parameters of the test firmware.

When the test is finished the firmware that uses the Microchip TCP/IP stack, generates a complete test report that as a dynamic web page.

If you are interested in additional information about this application or the nic424 feel free to contact me.