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Open course on Embedded Hardware for engineering students

We are assuming that, you are an electronics engineering student. You already completed the subject 'Microprocessors and Microcontroller Architecture and Programming'. You also done a lab on the same subject by writing programs for Microprocessor or Microcontroller kits.

To become a good embedded software developer, first you should be a good C programmer. Next you should have a decent understanding on the microprocessor hardware.

If you are able recollect the chips used in your microprocessor kit, that will be great. Definitely you will remember 8085/8086 microprocessor chip used in the kit. If you look at the kit, you will find many other chips on the kit. There could be half a dozen or more chips on the kit. If you have properly studied the course, you should know the purpose of each of these chips. Why these chips are required? what role these chips are playing? how they are connected to the Microprocessor? What microprocessor will do with these chips? These are the basic questions you should be able to answere.

If you don't know the answers, don't mind. If you have not yet, studied the microprocessor course, then also no problem. The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the microprocessor and computer hardware. If you have little interest in finding how a computer hardware works, then you can easily understand the following topics. After going through the following topics, if you have some questions, send email to the address given in the footer.

Every embedded system is a microprocessor or microcontroller based device. The microprocessor hardware and software are controlling the device. Take an example of electronic washing machine. The microcontroller is controlling the operation of washine machine. The software controls the water inlet valve to open. When water reaches to the required level, it closes the valve. Next it starts the motor, and starts a timer. When timer expires it stops the motor and opens the outlet valve. So that water will drain out. This is a simple description. But everything is handled by software and hardware.

There is not much difference between the hardware used in an embedded device and the hardware used in side a computer. Both will contain CPU (microprocessor) memory chips, IO chips and IO devices. They differ only in their capability. It is like cars. The working of all cars are same, more or less all will have the same parts. Same is true with the hardware used in various embedded devices and computers. If you have used 8086 microprocessor kit, note that, the first IBM-PC (personal computer), is made with 8088 processor. This 8088 is identical to 8086, except that it got only 8 bit data bus, where as 8086 has 16 bit data bus. So original PC is made with a hardware that is less capable than your 8086 kit.

Every hardware, either used in computers, or embedded system contains the following 4 components:

  • CPU (Microprocessor)
  • Memory Chips (Both volatile and Non-volatile)
  • IO or Peripheral Chips (types and count will vary)
  • IO or Peripheral devices (types and count will vary)

In the following topics, we are describing the functioning of a very simple hardware. This is a simple hardware, designed for study purpose. You should be able to understand this simple hardware easily. Once you understand this, we will study how real hardware will differ from this simple hardware. We will also compare this simple hardware with 8086 kit you have used in the lab.

Understanding CPU Part-1

Understanding CPU Part-2

Interfacing ROM with the CPU

Interfacing ROM and RAM with the CPU

Understanding IO and Interfacing Digital IO chip with the CPU

Understanding IO communication and Interfacing UART controller to CPU

Understanding and Interfacing Counter/Timer chip to CPU

Understanding how to load a program into ROM/RAM and run the program

Real microprocessor / microcontroller hardware boards

After going through the above topics, you will get basic understanding of embedded hardware. Now you know the roles of CPU chip, memory chips and IO interface chips. In the above topics, we have studied only generic CPU, and generic memory and IO interface chips. Now in the following topics we will study real embedded hardware boards. You can get information about each and every chip used in these boards from the Internet. So if you wish, you can understand a lot about these boards. In fact you can also write programs and run on these boards.

The first board we are going to discuss is the Intel 8086 microprocessor development kit. This kit is prescribed for the Microprocessor Lab in the engineering colleges.

Understanding 8086 Microprocessor Development Kit

The 8086 hardware board discussed above is an excellent board to understand the working of microprocessor hardware. This is because, in this kit, you can see the 8086 microprocessor, memory chips and various IO interface chips physically. You can also study and understand, how many pins are present in each of these chips, how these pins are connected to the microprocessor bus. You may also look at the hardware schematic diagram to understand how the pins are connected.

But this 8086 is outdated and no longer used in any of the real embedded projects. All embedded projects will use only microcontrollers. In the microcontroller you will get all the chips found in 8086 board and many more additional IO chips in a single chip. This single chip also very very small in size, when compared with 8086 microprocessor itself. The following link covers the ARM7 based microcontroller hardware, which is widely used in embedded projects.

Understanding ARM7 Microcontroller based embedded hardware

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