To me, software and tools are by far more important than the microcontroller. Because the silicon is a ‘one time kind of thing’, where the software has to be maintained and working over a longer time. And at least my software usually needs to be ported to a new device, so portability and available software and tools are critical to me.
The combination of MCUXpresso SDK (formerly Kinetis SDK) and Processor Expert is unfortunately not supported by NXP. But I have found a way to get them work together in a nice way, and this article is about making that combination possible :-).
SDKv2 Project with Processor Expert which is supposed not to work together
With debugging FreeRTOS applications in Eclipse, it is a big to have views available showing all the threads, queues, timers and heap memory allocation. One of the best Eclipse plugins are the one NXP provides for FreeRTOS: they are free of charge and give me pretty much everything I need. However, if you are not that familiar with FreeRTOS itself, here are a few tips to get more out of the plugins.
Good news for everyone using Eclipse, FreeRTOS and Percepio Tracealyzer: Percepio has released an Eclipse plugin which makes snapshot tracing very easy and convenient using the a GNU gdb debugger in Eclipse like Kinetis Design Studio:
P&E has a new version of their GDB/Eclipse debug plugins available on their Eclipse update site, and it comes with to great features: Real Time Expressions (show variables while target is running) and FreeRTOS thread awareness 🙂
Some ARM Cortex-M have a DWT (Data Watchpoint and Trace) unit implemented, and it has a nice feature in that unit which counts the execution cycles. The DWT is usually implemented on most Cortex-M3, M4 and M7 devices, including e.g. the NXP Kinetis or LPC devices.
When working and debugging a bootloader, debugging can be a challenge: During debugging the bootloader, a new binary gets loaded into the microcontroller address space which is unknown to the debugger. As soon as I step into the newly loaded binary, I only see assembly code, with that ugly “No source available” in Eclipse:
No Source Available, debugging in assembly
But wait: GDB is able to do pretty much everything you can imagine, so here is how to debug multiple binaries with GDB and Eclipse, and to turn the above into something which is easy to debug:
To me, one of the most frustrating things working with ARM Cortex-M cores are the hard fault exceptions. I have lost several hours this week debugging and tracking an instance of a hard fault on an ARM Cortex-M0+ device.
One of the biggest road blocks (beside of closed source) using the BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) stack from NXP is that it requires expensive tools to compile and build the stack. The good news is that I have now the NXP BLE stack for the Mikroelektronika Hexiwear ported to Eclipse and GNU gcc build tools for ARM 🙂
But one issue I have faced several times is that the board works fine while debugging and connected and powered by a host machine, but does not startup sometimes if powered by a battery or started without a debugger attached. I have found that the EzPort on the microcontroller is causing startup issues.
Time is passing by so fast, and the year end is approache fast! I’m pleased to announce that a new release of the McuOnEclipse components is available in SourceForge:
Percepio Trace V3.1 for FreeRTOS which includes both Segger RTT continuous streaming and snapshot tracing in a single API
Generation of sources and drivers so they can be used without Processor Expert using McuLibConfig, removal of dependency to NXP Kinetis SDK: components use a generic API approach to have them working with other SDKs.
New contributed ExceptionsHandler component
Callback Setter and Getter in USB CDC stack for simpler option handling
GenericTimeDate with flexible RTC support and added Unix Timestamp functions
LongKey events in Key component
FreeRTOS with optimized task selection on Cortex-M4/M7
It seems to me that not many developers use hardware trace? ARM indicates that maybe only <5% of developers are using trace. Too bad! Why are all the ARM Cortex microcontroller vendors putting a powerful hardware (and complicated!) trace engine into their devices, if only few developers are using it? Seems like a waste of silicon and an unnecessary price adder? Well, hardware trace can be a life saver: Because only with hardware trace the most complicated bugs and problems can be solved. And maybe because only the best are using it ;-).