STM32 dev the easy way

13Jan13

A while ago I bought an STM32 dev board from China on eBay, as it seemed to have so much more than the official Discovery boards coming with:

  • A 2.4″ LCD with touch screen input
  • 4 Pushbuttons (and a Reset button)
  • 4 LEDs
  • 2 Variable resistors
  • A Micro SD slot
  • A buzzer
  • RS232
  • 2 USB sockets
  • JTAG
  • A whole bunch of GPIO pins

In sum a whole bunch of awesome stuff. Sadly sometimes when things look too good to be true they are. After waiting ages for it to arrive I discovered that most of the documentation was in Chinese. It ran a pretty little demo app, but I didn’t know where to start with programming it. I put it on the shelf in the hope that one day something would show up to help, though realistically I expect it to gather dust – maybe I’d have a go at using the LCD for another project.

Zizzle to the rescue

At the end of October I saw a piece on the Dangerous Prototypes blog ‘Tutorial: STM32 boards and TFT LCD touchscreens‘, which linked back to Zizzle’s ‘STM32 LCD touch screen demo‘. I downloaded the VirtualBox image containing the tools and sample code, but didn’t do anything with it as I didn’t feel like I had the time. I shouldn’t have worried; when I finally got around to trying it yesterday I was up and running in minutes – watching the YouTube guides and clicking along in my own virtual machine. Another few minutes and I had customised menus on the touch screen:

Stm32 touch screen

 

It was also pretty straightforward to get debug messages from printf into a console.

I then went on to waste hours trying to get a TI Stellaris LaunchPad to work as a JTAG programmer in place of the BusBlaster that Zizzle had used, but that’s another story.

Why this works

Setting up tool chains for embedded devlopment is fiddly, but virtual machines make a great container for all of that effort. I’m now starting to wish that I’d had a go using a Linux VM for Andrei’s ‘STM32F3 Discovery + Eclipse + OpenOCD‘, but I thought it would be much harder to get USB devices working in the VM than it turned out to be (NB Andrei has since done a Windows version of his instructions).

Conclusion

Putting a complete tool chain in a VM image makes it super easy to get going with a dev board, especially when accompanied with good quality videos explaining how things work. Thanks Zizzle :)



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