I am excited to announce our new product, the Pololu P-Star 45K50 Mini SV, which is the second member of our P-Star family of programmable controllers based on the PIC18 microcontrollers from Microchip. The P-Star 45K50 Mini SV features a user-programmable PIC18F45K50 microcontroller (32 KB of flash, 2 KB of RAM, full-speed USB), a USB bootloader, and a switching step-down regulator that allows it to be powered from 5 V to 36 V.
The P-Star 45K50 Mini SV is very similar to the smaller P-Star 25K50 Micro, but is bigger and better, with 11 more I/O pins (for a total of 30), a more capable 5 V regulator, and several other additional features. The table below lists the main differences between the two P-Stars:
P-Star 25K50 Micro (top) and P-Star 45K50 Mini SV (bottom).
|P-Star 25K50 Micro||P-Star 45K50 Mini SV|
|User I/O lines:||19||30|
|Operating voltage:||5.5 V to 15 V||5 V to 36 V|
|Regulator type:||linear||switching step-down|
|Regulated current:(1)||100 mA||500 mA|
|Auxiliary 3.3 V regulator:|
|Dimensions:||1″ × 0.6″||2.0″ × 0.7″|
1 These values are rough approximations for comparison purposes. Available current depends on input voltage, current consumed by the board, ambient conditions, and regulator topology.
Although we have been using PIC microcontrollers since our very first product, these two P-Stars are our first products where the PIC microcontroller can be programmed by the user. You can program the P-Star in C or assembly with the MPLAB X IDE, or you can use Microchip’s new online IDE, MPLAB Xpress. The P-Star User’s Guide has instructions for getting started with those environments.
You can load programs onto the P-Star via its proprietary USB bootloader using our open source software that is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac. The bootloader uses 8 KB of flash memory, leaving 24 KB for the user. Alternatively, an ICSP programmer can erase the bootloader and access the full 32 KB of program memory. (Since the bootloader is not recoverable, we recommend this option only for those who are comfortable programming exclusively with an external programmer.)
Both P-Star boards feature a precision 16 MHz crystal, a USB Micro-B connector, and three user-controllable LEDs. A voltage regulator and power selection circuit allow the board to be powered from either USB or an external voltage source.
P-Star 45K50 Mini SV pinout diagram.
Compared to the popular ATmega32U4 microcontroller, the PIC18F25K50 and PIC18F45K50 have nearly the same performance and memory capacity, but these PICs also have some compelling features that are missing on the AVR. For example, they use the PIC18 architecture, which has two interrupt priority levels: interrupts can be assigned to either level, and a high-priority interrupt routine can run during a low-priority one. This powerful feature is what enables our Maestro servo controllers to generate precise servo signals while still using low-priority interrupts to assist with serial communication and other tasks. Unlike the ATmega32U4, these PICs can operate at full speed down to 2.7 V (though the brown-out reset on the P-Star is activated at 2.85 V by default).
The PIC18F25K50 and PIC18F45K50 also feature a 5-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC), which is a handy feature not available on many 8-bit microcontrollers. We use that DAC to set the stepper motor current limit on our Tic stepper controllers, where the PIC18F25K50 serves as the main processor.
A 3 kHz triangle wave generated by the 5-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC) on the P-Star 25K50 Micro.
For more information, check out the P-Star 45K50 Mini SV page.