Ramtron VersaKit 3074 VRS51L3074
Ramtron, Montreal, QC, Canada
Versa JTAG module
In mid 2006, Ramtron brought to market an enhanced 8051-based microcontroller, the VRS51L3074. The chip provides an 8051 processor core, peripherals, SRAM, and Flash memory as well as 8 kbytes of FRAM, or ferroelectric random access memory. Developers who wish to investigate the MCU chip and the use of FRAM can obtain the VersaKit 3074 board. Programming takes place through a JTAG pod. (Ramtron acquired Goal Semiconductor, which developed the enhanced 8051 architecture.)
At first glance, the small board, which measures 3.5 by 3.75 inches, seems to offer developers a nice way to test the processor. The board doesn't come cluttered with many “peripherals” such as multiple serial I/O ports, dedicated LEDs, sensors, and so on.Even the eight on-board LEDs remain unconnected, so developers can use them or ignore them. Use of the LEDs does require some wiring, though. So, the board gives developers access to all the MCU's signals and all of the chip's internal peripherals. Although the board and the chip seem versatile, Ramtron's efforts to attract developers to the enhanced 8051 architecture may come to naught because of poor software execution.
The Versa Family Series Documentation CD-ROM (6-2006, Rev. 31) provides information about many products, so I had to look carefully for the information on this new CPU chip. To start, I printed the VRS51L3074 Technical Brief (1 page) and the VersaKit-30xx User's Guide (21 pages). The latter describes the board, explains how to configure one RS-232C port, and examines some board operations. A following section explains the connection and use of the JTAG programming and debug pod.
The JTAG pod connects to a host PC through a parallel-port cable. That type of connection seems outdated. These days, most development tools provide a USB connection with a host PC, although a few systems use a serial port. My laser printer uses the only parallel port on my PC and I need to print program listings when I develop and debug code. So on the hardware side, I hesitated to connect this board to my PC until I learned more about it.
When it comes to software, you're pretty much on your own. Seventeen pages of instructions explain how to obtain, load, and configure the freeware Small Device C Compiler (SDCC) and the Syn text editor the company recommends for code development. Versions of SDCC and Syn come on the CD-ROM, but check for later files. After you load and set up both programs, you must configure them so edited text files pass to the SDCC, a command-line compiler. Yes, the software comes free of charge, but it seems like too much effort to expend to get to the point of trying a small development board.
Unfortunately, the CD-ROM provides no quick-start guide and only two demo programs for the VRS51L3074 chip. One program demonstrates how to operate a universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter (UART) and the other controls an LCD, which the kit does not provide. I don't like self flagellation, so I avoided loading and setting up the tools. Developers who must use an 8051 processor might have the fortitude to slog through the setup.
This kit could have a lot going for it if the JTAG pod used a USB connection to a host PC and if the company provided tutorial materials or even a few lessons on using the SDCC and Syn tools. Surely, a company that has invested so much in improving the venerable 8051 architecture could invest in better tools and an integrated development environment. And how about an easy setup and configuration wizard?
The company's Web site provides no information about how or where to buy the VersaKit board. They sure make it difficult to start a project. If you buy this board, contact the company and ask for better schematic diagrams. I could hardly read the legends on the diagrams, even with a magnifier.