Παρασκευή, 5 Ιανουαρίου 2018

Flashing the MSP430 LED - The Efficient Way!

So you are into this microcontroller thing right? A lot of people have purchased Arduinos lately and plenty of hackerspaces (including the one we run in my hometown) use them for teaching programming, electronics and maker culture in general. It's an awesome movement, bringing people back to the creative days of the 80s and 90s.

So what is the first  program you write on a microcontroller - any microcontroller? While learning a programming language, your first program is usually "Hello World". In microcontrollers, you flash a LED instead. Displaying a message to a screen needs additional components, like a .. screen (duh!) a library for writing to it and plenty of electrical connections. On the other hand, flashing a LED is easy. A microcontroller, a resistor, a LED. That's all you need. Even better, almost all dev boards have a built-in LED for you to start with. No connections needed at all.

Onboard LEDs of F5529 LaunchPad

The standard Arduino Code for flashing the LED looks like this:

// the setup function runs once when you press reset or power the board
void setup() {
  // initialize digital pin 13 (Arduino UNO) as an output.
  pinMode(13, OUTPUT);
}

// the loop function runs over and over again forever
void loop() {
  digitalWrite(13, HIGH);   // turn the LED on (HIGH is the voltage level)
  delay(1000);                       // wait for a second
  digitalWrite(13, LOW);    // turn the LED off by making the voltage LOW
  delay(1000);                       // wait for a second
}

And it's really quite straightforward:
  • Assign Pin 13 as an output
  • Write a logical HIGH to it (turning the connected LED on)
  • Wait some time (one second)
  • Write a logical LOW to it (turning the connected LED off)
  • Wait some time
  • Repeat
You could, in a pinch, translate this code to MSP430. Using the MSP430F5529 LaunchPad and Code Composer Studio (CCS), this would be the code:

#include <msp430.h>

void main(void)
{
  WDTCTL = WDTPW | WDTHOLD;        // stop watchdog timer
  P1DIR |= BIT0;                   // configure P1.0 as output

  while(1) {
    P1OUT ^= BIT0;                // toggle P1.0
    __delay_cycles(1000000);      // delay
  }
}


And it's not much different:
  • Assign P1.0 as output. This is BIT0 on Port 1, where the red LED is connected.
  • Repeat XORing the value of BIT0 to turn the LED on and off.
  • Get some delay between flashes (1000000 clock cycles, or 1 sec in the default 1 MHz speed)
There is also this mystery line about a watchdog timer, but more about that later.

So is there anything wrong with these examples? They do the job, right?
Well yes. But none of them is actually optimal. You see, microcontrollers are often used in environments where power is at a premium. Maybe they run off a small watch battery. They probably wait for something to happen, service the event and  and get idle again. And idle isn't even the correct word here:

A microcontroller waiting to service an event should actually be asleep! 

And what are we doing in our example? You guessed it, we are running full power. All the time. CCS actually noticed this:

Power advice from CCS: Let's follow it!

So the recommendation is to use a timer. Let's explore this.

Using the Watchdog Timer to flash the LED

Timers are a wonderful thing and one of the most commonly used peripherals in micrcontrollers. Programming one can be quite complicated but for our purpose we will use the simplest one: the Watchdog timer.

The watchdog timer is a clever idea for guarding a program running on an MSP430. When it is used in its normal function you have to put instructions in your code to reset it from time to time. If the counter rolls back to zero the MSP430 will reset itself. In other words, if your program crashes for whatever reason, the MSP430 will restart it. 

This actually explains the very first line of our sample program:

WDTCTL = WDTPW | WDTHOLD;        // stop watchdog timer

Since we are not really using the watchdog timer, we should stop it - otherwise our board would reset continuously!

Actually, we have another option: we can use the Watchdog timer to perform a useful function, like  flashing the LED once per second. We have to follow these steps:


  • Setup the Watchdog timer as an interval timer with 1 sec period.
  • Enable the interrupts for the Watchdog timer
  • Prepare the P1.0 port for output as before
  • Enable the interrupts for the whole CPU (GIE, General Interrupt Enable) and  change to Low Power Mode 3 (LPM3) allowing the cpu to sleep between flashes
  • Write an interrupt routine to be called to flash the LED when the timer interrupt occurs.
So this is our enhanced code:

#include <msp430.h>

void main(void)
{
    /*
     * WDTPW = Watchdog timer password (always needed)
     * WDTCNTCL = Clear counter (automatically reset)
     * WDTTMSEL = Configure as interval timer
     * WDTSSEL_1 = Configure ACLK as source (32 KHz)
     * WDTIS_4 = Interval timer select. WDT clock / 2^15 (1 sec at 32768 Hz)
     */
    WDTCTL = WDTPW + WDTCNTCL + WDTTMSEL + WDTSSEL_1 + WDTIS_4;

    P1DIR |= BIT0;                 // configure P1.0 as output
    SFRIE1 |= WDTIE;               // Enable WDT interrupts in the status register
    __bis_SR_register(LPM3_bits + GIE);  // Enter Low Power Mode 3 with interrupts enabled
}


#pragma vector = WDT_VECTOR  // Interrupt Service Routine (ISR) for Watchdog Timer
__interrupt void flashLed(void) {
    P1OUT ^= BIT0;       // toggle P1.0
}

Let's explain this a bit:

In order to setup the watchdog as a timer, we have to write a value to the WDTCTL register. This value consists of:
  • The WDTPW - The password. This is needed everytime something is changed in WDT
  • WDTTMSEL - This configures watchdog as an interval timer instead
  • WDTSSEL_1 - This configures the ACLK (auxiliary clock) as the source for the watchdog timer.
  • WDTIS_4 - This selects the timer interval. This value corresponds to 1 Hz blink rate.
  • WDTCNTCL - To clear the timer
In order to get the above values you really need to read the extremely useful (and long!) MSP430x5xx and MSP430x6xx Family User's Guide. Have a look at page 459 for the WDTCTL register.

Just configuring the watchdog as a normal timer is not enough though. We also have to enable its interrupt in the status register:

SFRIE1 |= WDTIE;               // Enable WDT interrupts in the status register

And even this is not enough, since we also have to enable the interrupts in general, otherwise the MSP430 would just ignore them:

__bis_SR_register(LPM3_bits + GIE);  // Enter Low Power Mode 3 with interrupts enabled

And at the same time, we also enter LPM3. The CPU will now sleep and wake up only to service the interrupts, using the flashled routine that follows main.

How does it know this is an ISR (Interrupt Service Routine) for wathcdog? That's easy:

#pragma vector = WDT_VECTOR  // Interrupt Service Routine (ISR) for Watchdog Timer

Information on #pragma compiler directive may be found in the MSP430 Optimizing C/C++ Compiler User's Guide.

Needless to say, our program is still not completely optimized for power (well, flashing a LED can hardly be called power optimization anyway). To minimize power consumption we should really configure all GPIO pins to output and set them to low. A more enhanced version of this program is available in my MSP430 Github repository, here.

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