A Low Cost Board – The TI LaunchPad

Well, as promised, we will discuss the LaunchPad board from Texas Instruments (http://www.ti.com/launchpad.)  At U$4.30 per board (including shipping), this may “seem too good to be true.”  Let me assure you that the offer is very real.  It appears that TI is taking a loss on this deal (probably writing it off to advertising) , and hoping to make it up in higher units sold.  Let’s get started with this cool part and see if we can’t sell a gazillion of the things for them – and, by the way, selling a gazillion of our products in the process. 😉

Here is a picture of one of the LaunchPads that I recently received:

Notice that there are series of ten holes along either long edge (left and right sides in the above picture.)  These are for the male and female headers, which are supplied with the kit, so that you can easily access all of the signals to and from the MSP-430 controller chip. If you are including the entire LuanchPad in a production unit (the price is low enough that you can actually do that!), then the holes could be used to solder the additional circuitry directly to the LaunchPad.

TI recommends that you solder the male header into the top (component side) of the LaunchPad board, and then solder the female connectors to the bottom of a Booster Pack.  The Booster Pack, is simply their name for a plug-in daughter board, similar to the shields used to connect circuitry to the Arduino controllers (http://www.arduino.cc/en/Main/arduinoShields – Click on the list .)  Limor (AKA Lady Ada) has a nice Arduino prototyping board with lots of nice pictures on her site (http://www.ladyada.net/make/pshield/.)

I think that, if you want to do experimenting with the LaunchPad out of the box, it would be better for you to solder the female headers to the top of the LaunchPad, rather than the Booster Pack.  This will allow you to plug simple wire jumpers into the female headers to add circuits on a breadboard, while allowing you to solder the male headers to a Booster Pack and still have full functionality from the Booster Packs.  Take a look at mine to see better what I am discussing:

This way, all you need to do to get started is to solder in the female headers, and then plug-n-play.  Plug a red wire into the Vcc socket on the uppermost pin of the left socket on your LaunchPad (when held with the top side facing you and the USB connector up), and plug the other end into the positive power rail of your breadboard.  Repeat that with a black wire going from the Gnd (upper-right pin) of the LaunchPad to the ground power rail on your breadboard.  Abracadabra, and you have (nearly) instant prototyping.  Plug a wire from one of the port pins on the LaunchPad and into a socket on your breadboard and go wild adding circuitry to your MSP-430.

Actually, for really simple circuit experiments, you can even use the female headers on the LaunchPad by themselves as sort of a breadboard on their own.  Take a look at this photo:

I took one of my Speaker Packs (http://zenstore.granzeier.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=5,) and plugged it directly in to the Vcc pin and the P1.1 pin.  Now, for simple sound output, I can write a program to send a sound signal out to the P1.1 output and hear the results without even the need for a breadboard system.  Talk about portable; write a music box while riding the bus or train in to the office.  😉

I drew a protoboard Booster Pack about a week or so ago (actually before I saw Limor’s shield), and will be sending it out for a proto run (http://www.batchpcb.com.)  If the boards work properly, I will be sending out for a production run and putting them into my store.

Here is a picture of my Booster Pack:

As this is currently laid out, the outside pins, closest to the labels in the above picture, mate up to the LaunchPad’s expansion pins.  If you solder the female headers to the LaunchPad, and then solder male headers to the bottom of those pins on my Booster Pack, the Booster Pack will plug directly in to the Launch Pad.  You could use pass-through female headers (headers with extra long pins) and solder them to the top of my board, that way, you could use my board and also plug in a different Booster Pack on top of the Protoboard.  Also, when you plug my LaunchPad Prototyping Booster Pack into the LaunchPad, it will leave the on-board pushbuttons and LEDs available so that you can use them in your projects.

You can either glue a solderless breadboard onto the Prototyping Board, or you can use the prototyping area on my board and solder the circuits right to the Prototyping Board.  Either way, there is room for a couple of 10-pin headers which will provide you with Vcc and Ground, along with complete columns of Vcc and Gnd down the center to provide easy access to power for your circuit.  There is enough room on the prototype area to place a single 40-pin DIP, or up to four 8-pin DIPs.  You can quickly add new circuitry to your LaunchPad; great for learning too!

Well, that’s it for today.  Be sure to take a look at my store (http://zenstore.granzeier.com) for other electronics packs and kits.  Also, if you are interested in Retro Computing, check in with my RetroChallenge entry at: http://retrochallenge.granzeier.com.)