Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You don't get what you don't pay for

Sigh. Repeat after me: You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't have your cake and ....

I've been test driving the Hi-Tech C Pro compiler for the PIC MCUs and much as I am thrilled that it works under MPLAB and is being offered completely free (Lite version) without firmware size or time period restrictions, I must say that the lack of optimization in the freeware version is rather depressing. The code it produces is quite inefficient.

For instance, for the PIC 10F20x series, for the given a static global variable the C statement "POTATO++" or "++POTATO" is translated into assembly by Hi-Tech Lite as follows:

MOVWF 0x13
MOVF 0x13, W
ADDWF 0x1e, F

Am scratching my head. Why the two middle instructions? Why not cut to the chase and have:

ADDWF 0x1e, F

Or better yet, why not just

INCF 0x1e, F

Wasting two to three bytes and instruction cycles in an MCU that has only 256 / 512 words of program space is just crazy.

I know I'm making a hasty conclusion but this one example of utter wastefulness shows me why this is freeware. I'm wondering how the versions with "Omniscient Code Generation" will compile the above. Hopefully you do get what you pay for.

Monday, June 22, 2009

More on that timer

Modifications made to the timer:
  • New "wall wart" power supply. Oscilloscope test of output shows it has no filter capacitor so a 470uF 25V electrolytic was added to the board. No-load voltage with filter cap was >20VDC.
  • Added a LM78L12ACZ and LM78L05ACZ voltage regulator
  • A 1N4002 was added as a safety feature in case power supply polarity is inadvertently reversed.
Here's the schematic:

MCU = Microchip PIC 16F785
Q1,Q2 = S9012 PNP transistor
Q3 = 2N7000 MOSFET transistor
XTAL = 32.768kHz crystal
7SEG LED = ELD-306IDB dual 7-segment LED common anode
all resistors 1/4Watt 5%

I've installed the timer in my aunt's kitchen. Much to my chagrin the volume of the buzzer was not close to earsplitting. Although as with any sonalert buzzer, it will surely be heard tens of meters away.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The timer's dead; long live the timer!

Two years ago I installed a countdown timer at my sister's apartment. The user can set the time anywhere from 1 to 99 minutes. After the countdown is over a Sonalert buzzer will blare. The alarm has three stages, each with successively higher duty cycle. It begins with gentle fractional-second beeps so as not cause a heart attack. Each stage runs for approximately 10 seconds.

The engine that drives the timer is a 20-pin Microchip PIC 16F785 microcontroller. For user interface the time has a two-digit 7-segment LED display and two momentary contact buttons. Pressing the UP/DOWN button for a fraction of a second will increment/decrement the readout by one; keeping it depresed will increment/decrement the reading by 10. If the readout is not zero and no button is pressed for around 4 seconds, countdown begins. Once countdown has started either button will abort the count and readout will be zeroed. If countdown is allowed to run its course and the buzzer starts sounding, either button will turn the alarm off. When readout is "0" for some 16 seconds, readout will be blanked and MCU will go to sleep. Pressing either button will wake it up.

Although my sis has almost never used the timer (all that effort soldering the dang thing for nothing!) I just found out it doesn't work! The only reason I discovered it's on the blink is that I took it down and was going to give it to my aunt. She found out I have a timer in my home (practically the same design but has some improvements) and she says she needs one too.

To cut to the chase, it turns out the power supply is dead. The PSU is an Ericsson cell phone charger model AA21990 which has an output of 5.1V 450mA. To add to the trouble, while testing the timer using a working PSU (not an Ericsson) I discovered that the MCU was running very warm. Now that's bad! The timer was working fine, meaning the MCU was still running the firmware, but somehow or other there was a short or a quasi short somewhere. I inspected the solder side of the board but it was fine. I cleaned the board just to make sure. Finally in desperation I took out a new 16F785, burned in the firmware, and dropped it in the DIP socket. Well, what do you know? The original MCU was fried as well!

My guess is that the PSU must've taken the MCU with it when it burned out.

I tried reprogramming the MCU. This PICkit2 says it has a Vpp problem. At some point it couldn't even detect the device. Guess that's it for that chip. Its time is up!

I'm modifying the circuit before installing it in my aunt's home. Instead of being powered by 5VDC the buzzer will now be operated at 12 volts. That increases the alarm volume considerably so it can be heard even in the next room with the door closed. It's going to be earsplitting in the kitchen.