In this instalment I’m going to cover how easy it is to get to grips with the board:
- Setting up a Renesas account
- Updating the firmware
- Undertaking the e-learning provided
- Checking out support options for probable future use
I’ll apologise for it being a bit text heavy. Some of the ground I cover involves material that you have to sign up for and I’d feel uncomfortable posting images or large tracts of that content.
I’m aiming these posts at those who are not familiar with MCU development to give them a feel of what they will go through. I know not everyone will be interested in reading this in detail so I’ll provide a brief summary of the points:
- Firmware is easy to install. It should be done in a specific order (to keep functionality of the board as shipped). If new firmware is developed properly, it is possible to install an update but rollback if problems occur - nice feature. Renesas could provide a bit more information on the download pages as it isn’t clear what the downloads cover.
- e-Learning is high-level but pretty comprehensive, on a tell-but-not-show basis, especially for engineers considering the RX family for products. It’s dull to go through as it’s basically a disembodied voice reading the words from PowerPoint (or similar) slides. However, it does give a good grounding in the family, capabilities and development tools it just could be more hands-on.
- Support Options are provided through multiple channels, nominally as part of their RenesasRulz support portal. The most useful, as would be expected, is the Forum which looks to be active. This also provides a collection of instructional files on a variety of topics to help with development on the platform.
I’m impressed with the approach to Firmware updating and the resources provided to support people new to the platform or MCU development in general is very useful.
This is needed to access software for download, some of the documentation, newsletters and so on - typical stuff. The registration process is a 5-step process but simple enough - add your details, confirm you aren’t Shrek, add even more details (they clearly expect signees to be employed professionals) and Bob’s your Uncle. They expect you to sign up for newsletters etc, but strangely one of the mandatory options is “Unsubscribe from all email notifications” - it is possible to select that before actually signing up for anything, which amused me. Simple things. On a subsequent page you can opt-in to information on a wide range of topics which can all be ignored but one of the options is for the RX65N MCU so you will want to select that
Under your profile, you will then see a bunch of possible downloads as well as news related to the MCU. I won’t past the list here as it’s very long but these are broken into the following categories:
- Technical Updates
- Tool News
At this stage, I’m not clear what I actually need so I’ll be back to this page. I don’t want to download any software yet as apparently the SDK has a 60-day limit on it before its functionality becomes limited. Admittedly, this is the duration of the road test but still.
Ok, so it’s easy enough to set up an account but what I want to do first is download and update the firmware.
Updating The Firmware
The board has two flash banks for firmware and comes with Standard FW rev 0.90 and Benchmark FW rev 1.02. These can be swapped over using the demo as an indicator to how it would be accomplished for real: install new firmware into the second bank and swap it over to the first. This would allow for a rollback if things went pear-shaped so it’s a neat idea. The onus is on the firmware provider to provide the swap capability - if not, you may be able to swap it in, but not swap it back out again.
The help text in the Bank demo points me at www.renesas.com/envision. The downloads page shows three firmwares so I need to figure out which one(s) I need:
Clicking on a link brings up more info, for example the Benchmark Firmware:
Annoyingly, the description doesn’t say what version it is. It does state clearly what model of the Envision kit it is for which can be x-referenced to the board itself:
The best way then is to download the three for the board and see. The firmware for on-board emulator is for a different Envision kit, so there is the Benchmark Firmware, the Standard Firmware with demo programs Firmware, and an amalgamation of the two as Source Code only. The latter has detailed instructions for compiling the source and uploading to the board - something I expect is needed if you screw up the implementation.
There are no readme files for the two immediately relevant downloads so I’m still none-the-wiser which I need. All I can go on is that the help text for the Standard FW states to download the latest version which this presumably is; It could be that the boards are all burned with the same, original firmware and that manufacturing process hasn’t incorporated a newer version (since Nov 2017!). There is a separate driver download for the 2D graphics engine - RX DRW2D - which can be downloaded, compiled and then uploaded (probably) but I’m hoping that it is already embedded in the Standard FW just downloaded. I’m not hopeful given the dates against the files, but I’ll have to come back to that when I have a bit more information on the development tools and debugger usage.
I think Renesas could make all this much clearer by providing documentation with the download both on the page itself as well as with a readme file - we’re talking a couple of lines of text really.
What I really DON’T want to do at this stage is to brick the board so it’s back to the Firmware Quick Start Guide. I mentioned in the first instalment that this looked rather confusing so I’ll see if I can get a clearer understanding now I need to actually do it. I only skimmed it back then! As a reminder, the Quick Start Guide is available here.
Ah! So, the files in the FW downloaded do have the version number embedded in the filename itself. For Benchmark FW the file is bench104.rsu - presumably version 1.04 - and the Standard FW file is std100.rsu - presumably version 1.00. Excellent, so I do have later versions than burned into the board itself. The document has become a lot clearer now having found and downloaded the three files. Page 1 is describing how to find and download the relevant files; Page 2 is describing how to upload the firmware direct to the device without compiling; Page 3 and 4 is describing how to compile and upload the firmware files from source.
Following instruction on page 2 of the guide. A firmware file has an extension of .RSU, the downloads are providing the initial version and the updated version, so I copied just the updated version on to a USB stick in the root directory (given no instructions to the contrary so it seems sensible.) On power on, the demos are displayed, push Bank Swap and then Swap to see the files on the USB:
What this has done is swapped to the Benchmark FW which provides the feature for updating the ‘other’ bank - which contains the Standard FW. Select the file _std10~1.rsu and press update. There’s a distinct lack of progress indicated, just “Downloading update data …”. I also realise I’ve clicked on the wrong file. Start again… Select std100.rsu and press update: tnow it’s possible to see progress being written to the screen.
Pressing Reboot swaps the FW, reboots the board and the new demo software is loaded. This contains the updated programs which does utilise the 2D graphic accelerator. Excellent. The next update is for the Benchmark FW. I’ll need to swap to the Benchmark FW to do this so what I expect will happen - having seen the process above - is that it will update the ‘other’ bank overwriting the Standard FW and I will have two versions of the Benchmark FW loaded…..Yep, exactly what happened. So I need to repeat the upload of the Standard FW - clearly there is an order for doing this which is obvious in retrospect.
Finally, both FW files are updated. Perhaps it’s me, but I do think that the instructions could be a little clearer. However, anyone can get there with a little bit of thinking. Certainly the User Guide is much clearer once the FW files are found, downloaded and extracted.
Renesas provide an eLearning academy to help users of its products get up to speed, to quote: “Sometimes knowing where to start can be a nightmare.” They promote a premium e-learning solution for their micro-controllers/-processors for all skill levels. Courses are provided by product, technology, skill level and format with hands-on labs and quizzes. That’s really promising and it will be interesting to see how useful the courses are. The academy needs different credentials to the MyRenesas one credited previously, again a simple enough process.
There is one course with nine modules applicable to the RX family of micro controllers which has a duration of approximately 4 hours. Ostensibly, it covers architecture, product range, key features, application examples, development environment and support and its suitable for those evaluating or looking to get familiar with it at the start of a design. That’s me, and my expectation is to come away with a good understanding of the MCU, developing for it and getting support.
Not all the modules are relevant but from those available:
- Introduction to RX Products & Roadmap: key features and functional view of the family, how to develop and where to find support
- Detailed Overview of RX Core Features: Core and system functions, on-chip memory and peripherals, communication and timer units
- RX Standard Development Environment: Covers the software support, IDEs, compilers and RTOS support for developing
- Target Application Challenges: Provides a variety of examples for using the MCU
- Renesas Infrastructure & Online Ecosystem: Tour of on-line services offered by Renesas
- Fundamentals of Development Tool Installation: tour of debuggers, programmers, IDEs and compilers
I’m not going to describe each course but they consist of a set of automated slides (a la PowerPoint) with a disembodied voice-over reading the words on the slide, pretty much word-for-word. The presentations do not work very well with Safari - many times, the sound disappeared; it purports to work well with Chrome, Firefox and IE11 but I didn’t test these as the loss of sound was unpredictable and I couldn’t sit through the presentations more than once. Resolution is low, so some of the more detailed diagrams are not distinguishable. The format of showing a slide and reading the words from it is extremely dull so it becomes hard to concentrate after a while. It would be useful to have some courses that were more ‘hands-on’ as these were very much telling about the product rather than showing - there’s nothing about actually using the software development tools for example.
There is, however, a lot of information covered in quite some detail. The introductory videos give good coverage of features and characteristics of the family so if you were looking at the RX MCU for a specific project, they’d be well worth a watch. There is good information on the development tools as well. There appears to be a choice of three: E2Studio and HEW4 from Renesas, and IAR Embedded Workbench from IAR. I believe it’s a ‘take your choice’ option as they seem to cover the same ground. The E2Studio is based on Eclipse Embedded Studio using GNU plugins for compile, link and debug and will be the option I will use. There is also code generation for MCU peripherals and RTOS (Real Time Operating System) support from third parties (including FreeRTOS.) There is very little coverage of the Segger emWin software which is available for the evaluation board user.
It did take around 4 hours to go through the material. In terms of meeting my expectations it is only partially successful. I certainly have a better understanding of the MCU, what it can do and where I can go for support, but I’m not very informed about actually using the software development tools. They have a whole module on installing - i.e. a walkthrough of the InstallShield process - but the time would have been better utilised going through the IDE and configuration options; if you can't click on setup.exe and work through install windows, give up now!
On the RX home page, there is a link to Design Support which provides further links to resources.
You can see from the screenshot a brief description of what the options are, but it’s worth calling out three of these. They are all part of RenesasRulz which is their user support portal.
There seems to be two FAQs! The one accessed from the Design Support tab, screenshot above, and one to the KnowledgeBase from the RenesasRulz portal.
- The former is pre-filtered to the RX family and is basically just a list of entries in the support database. It’s organisation is such that I’m not convinced it will be that useful as the entries are out of context:
- The second, Knowledge Base, is more contextualised and looks like it will be easier to both navigate and find information
However, there’s little on the RX65N as such so it’s not likely to be very useful. Maybe not many questions are actually asked!
There’s not a lot to say about a Forum per-se. There’s a board specifically for the RX family and it seems fairly active which is good. As is usual with these things, it pulls out popular discussion, and Frequently Asked. There’s also provision for files - these seem to be used to cover a wide range of topics as PDFs, PowerPoints and Zip collections. As example coverage, information is provided for I2C, USB library and using the Peripheral Driver Generator with e2studio. It’s a resource that will come in very handy.
This looks like a very useful page - it’s essentially the product page for the IDE and provides a wealth of information for using the tool. This is exactly what I was hoping one of the eLearning modules would cover so it nicely fills that hole. There are overviews of the tool and links to specific topics as well as getting started and user guides, and videos for building and debugging. I will go through this as part of installing and first-steps with the IDE.
Renesas have provided some very useful resources to get someone new to the product family, and MCU development as a whole, off the ground. In particular, the way the MCU deals with firmware updating by providing the facility to rollback, is a great feature. Although not brilliant, it was worthwhile going through the eLearning material to get a good overview and it does cover topics I have a specific interest in for this review as a whole - I2C, ADC and USB serial operations. I feel more could be made of this particular channel though.
The next instalment will cover the development toolset and first steps with that.
I will update this entry to provide links to further instalments as I create them:
Part Two: Getting Going (this post)