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Review of Atmel SAMA5D34-EK Evaluation Kit

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 7
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 10
Demo Software was of good quality: 7
Product was easy to use: 8
Support materials were available: 8
The price to performance ratio was good: 8
TotalScore: 48 / 60
  • RoadTest: Atmel SAMA5D34-EK Evaluation Kit
  • Buy Now
  • Evaluation Type: Independent Products
  • Was everything in the box required?: No - No Australian power adapter - substituted suitable replacement in the form of a figure 8 cable
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: Did not work ! D.O.A. I eventually found the problem - an incorrectly set jumper.

  • Detailed Review:

    I have been unable to do the review due to illness and was just recently able to start.  I finished photos of unboxing and had written intro but I have found that after assembly, the SAMA5 does not produce any output to the LCD at all.  I have a red led lit to the left of the four buttons (under the left of the LCD), a blue led on the CM module and a green flickering led under the right of the LCD (D14?).  Nothing else displays.

     

    Disappointed in this as it seemed it would easily provide the functionality I needed.  I may have to look elsewhere.

     

    I found a solution and it was embarrassingly simple and should not have happened.

     

    I will submit the remaining review shortly...

     

    Review also attached as a PDF

     

    Element 14 Road Test for ATMEL SAMA5D34-EK

     

    Author: Terry Dark

     

    Introduction.

     

    I heard about Element14 and its road test program through “The Ben Heck Show”.

     

    It sounded good so earlier this year, I applied to Element14  to do a road test on a Gertboard. My hopes, should I find myself chosen, were to take advantage of it’s I/O extending capabilities with the Raspberry Pi and produce a pretty comprehensive system for environmental control in my orchid houses.

     

    My design’s system requirements for such an undertaking were, or at least I felt at the time, within the processing and interfacing specifications of the Pi and the Gertboard.

     

    Unfortunately I didn’t get assigned the road test but I purchased a Gertboard anyway and decided to proceed with my project.  I soon discovered that there were a few short comings in this combination for which I had not planned. The problems stemmed mostly from the nature in which the I/O is expanded but this is not a review of the Gertboard so I will not go into that.

     

    I decided that the Beaglebone Black would be a next choice with its increased I/O compared with a Pi, the specs looked good.

     

    But do you think I could get one? Beaglebone Blacks were as rare as hen’s teeth on release, out here in Australia.

     

    In the meantime, I had applied for the Atmel ATSAMA5D34 road test. I was pleased to find out that I had been selected so I eagerly waited for its delivery which eventually occurred in mid-June, on a Monday.

     

    I was in the middle of a contract at that stage so I had to leave it till the following weekend before I tackled it.

     

    Anyway, as fate would have it, one more delay decided to rear its head. Without going into details, it was a severe blow that delayed everything, including the road test, by many weeks. I did not get to touch the package again till late last week, almost two months later.

     

    I did not want to be black listed for future road tests and it was obvious I was not going to complete the project for which I had eventually targeted the ATSAMA5D34, so I have decided to review the package as is and go over some of the capabilities that are advertised and required by my system and then, finally, provide a conclusion as to determine:

    1. 1. Whether it meets the advertised specs, or at least, as far as my project’s needs were concerned and;
    2. 2. how the evaluation kit presents itself for what it’s meant to be ie: do whatever demos that are provided, demonstrate the kit to the fullest capabilities and does the kit allow the user (a suitably experienced person) to test the component’s capabilities without too much grief and how “deep” does a user have to “dig” to find the required information to quickly assess and later on, use the product.

     

    I had planned to make this a bit more comprehensive, with in situ demonstration of the kit’s attributes but the following will have to do.

     

    Image1.png

    Supplied adapters for the power pack (wall wart)

     

    Image2.png

    Assembly instructions – not much you can do wrong!

     

    Image3.png

     

    Clear plastic feet are pre-fitted underneath to lift the board off bench.

     

    Image4.png

     

    Standard figure 8 AC cable was used instead of trying to find a conversion adapter to suit the US plug.  The power pack was rated at AC 100 – 240V (50 – 60Hz) so this suited Australian standard (240V AC).

     

    Image5.png

     

    Assembled board.

     

    Image6.png

     

    Powered up with nothing on the screen!!

     

     

    I thought here that the board was “bricked” before the review even got under way.

     

    A brief interchange with Dale on the Road Test discussion board:

    Hi Terry,

    Definately sounds bricked to me, you can try to flash the memory through the RS242 as long as you can configure the port correctly as your computer probably won't recognize the device. Download the demo software from the Atmel site as well make sure the switches on the Sama are set to read from the correct port you will input the software to. Message me if there is any help you need.

    Dale W

     
     

    This reminded me of the USB/CDC socket for debugging and also reminded me of the demos that were supposed to be available.  If I can talk to this board and determine that it is working then I may be able to get somewhere by re-imaging the application as suggested by Dale.

     

    After setting up the debugger in a terminal (HyperTerminal in Win XP), I was presented with a menu system giving me access to the various testing procedures.

     

    Image7.png

     

    I was able to successfully test pretty much all of the hardware so I felt confident that re-applying the demo image would fix the problem.

    After some searching I found information and downloads at


    http://www.at91.com/linux4sam/bin/view/Linux4SAM/GettingStarted#Demoa5d3x_yocto


    ... plus more detail


    http://www.at91.com/linux4sam/bin/view/Linux4SAM/GettingStarted_a5d3x


    Downloading the SAM-BA tool which is necessary to apply the new applications to the board, I applied new demo software only to find that the app still did not boot.

    I checked “every” jumper and its meaning to see if there was anything that controlled boot methods etc.

    I had almost decided that the board was actually DOA when I noticed a jumper on the CM (the small board that the SAMA5D34 sits on). It was just labelled “JP1”. There was already a JP1 on the main board and this had a description in the legend on the main board so I was sure this wasn’t the same JP1. 

     

    I did a quick search in the ATMEL SAMA5D34 manual for it but didn’t find it (it was a really quick search!).

    In desperation I took the jumper off the pins and rebooted. 

    Success!! Up came the application, in full colour, on the LCD.

    I was also confused as I checked the original photo I took during un-boxing and the jumper was set there too!

    I looked for a reference to the jumper again and found this (circled) in the circuit:

    Image8.png

    It appeared to control the NandFlash output enable which is where I think the application is stored. This would have a effect similar to what I was experiencing, so I do wonder how testing was done??

     
     

    Anyhow, back to the review…

     

    LCD Touch screen

    During boot, I was prompted to set the alignment on the touch screen.

    I found the application, once running, was clear and easy to read on the LCD screen.

    Image9.png

     

    I did find the touch aspect of the screen requiring a little more pressure that I am used to, which in an industrial application may bring on some heavy handedness with some workers. I have found that many people press harder if something doesn’t work immediately and with what appears to be a glass plate screen, this could be detrimental to the display.


    The response to positive interactions was not bad and would extend itself well in the various process controls to which this embedded device could be applied. Good attention to size of buttons, etc, with which the user would have to interact, would allow this controller to be effective in almost any environment.


    I will have to try a waterproof membrane to cover the LCD so that moisture cannot damage the circuits.  Being a pressure-resistive touch screen, it should not be affected by capacitive variation caused by water etc.  In a controlled environment such as the orchid house where I intend to use the SAMA5D34, humidity levels can get as high as 80-95%.


    The touch screen offers quite a bit of flexibility. The Q-touch keys will work nicely as tab selectors in the software.


    The LCD and controller itself is an extremely capable piece of hardware with all sorts of advance features in a small package. With overlays, rotation and other features for providing a flexible human machine interface.

     

    Communication

    The communications offered by the SAMA5D34 is very good. Although I have not applied it, I was able to test each aspect provided by the testing menu found. I did not try the CAN interfaces as I did not have a suitable cable. Nor did I try SPI and I2C although they will be my primary communications channels to the various control and measurement stations around the building. These require some programming and due to lack of time, I will just have to assume they will work as specified for now.


    Ethernet works OK so this will allow me to interface to a web interface remotely.

     

    Storage

    I was able to test storage on SD and micro SD successfully which will allow local logging should Ethernet go offline.


    The sockets are a bit hard to get to, especially after you have mounted the main board in a box. I had to disengage the computer module from the socket to get the SD card in its socket.


    I do have to keep reminding myself though that this an evaluation kit and not a pre-cursor to a finished product.


    My app will be running in Linux so file management and most comms will be run of the mill.


    Interfacing with other electronics


    And there are stacks of GPIO available – I cannot see myself running short but I can always extend using the usual methods. Four channel PWM, 160 I/Os, 12 channel 12bit A/D.  No this is no Arduino Uno or Raspberry Pi that is for sure.

     

    My Conclusions

    For my current application and from what I have been able to test and from my rummaging through the various testing facilities, etc, this is a bit of overkill. But as time goes by and I continue developing new features, I believe I will make use of more of this board’s resources. My only hope is that this offering from ATMEL has a long life, as it could be a little while before I can get the complete application done.

     

    Pricing

    The pricing is no where near Arduino or Raspberry PI or Beaglebone Black but the really hard work is already done so I think it is value for money! (interfacing with systems takes time and this equates to dollars for the professional).


    In my opinion this is a nicely finished product that I hope will continue to provide me with an education!

     

    The ARM chip is priced well but I would have liked to see the assembled SODIMM board available separately as I would be tempted to design around that rather than the EK - as it is, it seems that it is available as the Evaluation Kit or the chip - nothing in between.

     

    Regards


    Terry


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