Archive | atmega328

Discovering Arduino’s internal EEPROM lifespan

How long does the internal EEPROM of an Atmel ATmega328 last for? Let’s find out…

Updated 18/03/2013

Some time ago I published a short tutorial concerning the use of the internal EEPROM  belonging to the Atmel ATmega328 (etc.) microcontroller in our various Arduino boards. Although making use of the EEPROM is certainly useful, it has a theoretical finite lifespan – according to the Atmel data sheet (download .pdf) it is 100,000 write/erase cycles.

One of my twitter followers asked me “is that 100,000 uses per address, or the entire EEPROM?” – a very good question. So in the name of wanton destruction I have devised a simple way to answer the question of EEPROM lifespan. Inspired by the Dangerous Prototypes’ Flash Destroyer, we will write the number 170 (10101010 in binary) to each EEPROM address, then read each EEPROM address to check the stored number. The process is then repeated by writing the number 85 (01010101 in binary) to each address and then checking it again. The two binary numbers were chosen to ensure each bit in an address has an equal number of state changes.

After both of the processes listed above has completed, then the whole lot repeats. The process is halted when an incorrectly stored number is read from the EEPROM – the first failure. At this point the number of cycles, start and end time data are shown on the LCD.

In this example one cycle is 1024 sequential writes then reads. One would consider the entire EEPROM to be unusable after one false read, as it would be almost impossible to keep track of  individual damaged EEPROM addresses. (Then again, a sketch could run a write/read check before attempting to allocate data to the EEPROM…)

If for some reason you would like to run this process yourself, please do not do so using an Arduino Mega, or another board that has a fixed microcontroller. (Unless for some reason you are the paranoid type and need to delete some data permanently). Once again, please note that the purpose of this sketch is to basically destroy your Arduino’s EEPROM. Here is the sketch:

If you are unfamiliar with the time-keeping section, please see part one of my Arduino+I2C tutorial. The LCD used was my quickie LCD shield – more information about that here. Or you could always just send the data to the serial monitor box – however you would need to leave the PC on for a loooooong time… So instead the example sat on top of an AC adaptor (wall wart) behind a couch (sofa)  for a couple of months:

The only catch with running it from AC was the risk of possible power outages. We had one planned outage when our house PV system was installed, so I took a count reading before the mains was turned off, and corrected the sketch before starting it up again after the power cut. Nevertheless, here is a short video – showing the start and the final results of the test:

So there we have it, 1230163 cycles with each cycle writing and reading each individual EEPROM address. If repeating this odd experiment, your result will vary.

Well I hope someone out there found this interesting. Please refrain from sending emails or comments criticising the waste of a microcontroller – this was a one off.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, atmega328, atmel, EEPROM, hardware hacking, lesson, microcontrollers, projects, tutorial5 Comments

Project – Let’s make Electronic Dice

In this project we make electronic dice.

Updated 18/03/2013

In this article you can learn how to make an electronic die (die is the singular of dice), using an ATmega328 with Arduino bootloader and a few inexpensive components. The reason for doing this is to introduce another object that you can build, learn from and be proud of. It is a fairly simple procedure, and at the end you will have something that is useful for a long time to come. Again this article will be a design-narrative, so please read it in full before making a die yourself.

First of all, here is a photo of my finished product.


Naturally the cosmetic design is up to you, I have used this box, LEDs and switches as they were already in my stock of parts. The die is quite a simple design – with a twist. Inside the unit is a mercury switch. This consists of a small glass tube with two wires at one end and a small amount of mercury. When the mercury rolls over the wires, they are shorted out. Just like a push button when it is pushed, for example:



We will make use of this switch to start the die “rolling” – to simulate the use of a non-electronic, under-engineered wooden die. For safety, I will be using a mercury switch that is enclosed with plastic:


Over the last few years several people have contacted me saying “don’t use mercury switches”. Fair enough, if you don’t want to either, use element-14  part number 540614.

First of all, the circuit is assembled on a breadboard using our Eleven Arduino-compatible board. There is no need to build the complete independent circuit yet, as we just want to test the aspects of the sketch, and try various LEDs out. I have some bright blue ones which match with the blue housing:


There is a function in the sketch (below) called

which is used to display the numbers 1 to 6. The following video is a demonstration of this:

The sketch is quite simple – you can download it from here. Once the behaviour of the die met my expectation, I used my ZIF-socket programming board to upload the sketch into a nice fresh ATmega328 with bootloader. One could also add a piezo buzzer for sound effects, as described in sketch. This will end up being a birthday present for a young niece, so I have omitted the sound effects.

Next,  time to rebuild the circuit on the breadboard – using the bootrom and not our Eleven. Here is the schematic:


and the resulting layout:


And it works! Things are starting to come together now. As usual I was curious about the current draw, as this helps me determine how long the battery will last. On standby it draws between 10 and 20 milliamps, and between 30 and 40 milliamps when displaying numbers.

By now you probably would like to see it work, so here is the prototype demonstration:

Now it is your turn… from a hardware perspective, we will need the following:

  • IC1 – ATmega328 with Arduino bootloader programmed with the sketch
  • IC2 – LM78L05 voltage regulator – note that with the front facing you, pins are 1-output, 2-GND, 3-input
  • D1-D7 – LEDs of your choosing
  • R1, R9: 10 kilo ohm resistors
  • R2-R8: 560 ohm resistors
  • X1 – 16 MHz resonator – centre pin to ground, outside pins to IC1 pins 9 and 10
  • small piece of protoboard
  • SW1 – on/off button
  • SW2 – mercury tilt switch
  • 9V PP3 battery and snap
  • optional – 28-pin IC socket
  • a nice case, but not too large
  • some thin heatshrink
  • some sponge or insulating foam which has a width and length slightly larger than the protoboard

The ideal housing would be one that fits in the palm of your hand. However, such miniaturisation levels are quite difficult in the home workshop. The biggest problem (literally) was the power supply. The only battery with the voltage and a decent amp-hour rating was the 9V PP3. Alkaline models are usually good for 500 to 625 mAh, and should power the die for about ten hours of continuous use. Furthermore, whilst running the prototype on the breadboard, it would function down to 6 volts, however the LEDs were a little dim – but still perfectly usable. However I managed to squeeze it all in – sans the IC socket.

So if you are like me, and soldering the IC in directly – make sure you are happy with your sketch!

Anyhow, time to start the hardware work of assembly. Using veroboard/protoboard is easy if you plan things out first.

Remember – to fail to plan is to plan to fail

So in this case, I like to get some graph paper and draw out the tracks with a highlighter, such as:


My diagram shows the tracks as they would be on the rear of the veroboard. With this, using a pencil one can mark out component placement, links, and where to cut tracks if necessary. Those long lines are great for +5V and ground. Etcetera. When you have laid out the parts, go and have a break. Return and check your work, then fire up your iron and go!

Once completed you then have an easy to follow plan to solder along with. Here is the above example after I finished soldering:


After the soldering was completed, and the board checked for any shorts or poor-quality joints – it was time to have a clean-up and clear the mess away. Now it was time to stuff the whole lot into the housing… but it would be prudent to test the circuit beforehand. So I soldered in the tilt switch, and the battery snap, connected the battery – and it worked. Notice in the image below the placement of the centre LED – I have used some heatshrink over the legs to totally insulate them, and have it at the centre of the board:


Now to focus on the enclosure. In order to keep the costs down I used a box (and almost everything else) from my existing stock. It turned out to be a little small, but with some creative squeezing everything would fit. The PCB and battery are separated by a thin layer of anti-static foam, to prevent the possibility of the sharp edges of the PCB underside scratching the label of the battery and causing a short.

The final messy task was to drill the holes for the LEDs and the power switch. The switch was easy enough, just knock a small hole in then use a tapered reamer to get the exact size:


Then to drill the holes in the lid for the LEDs to poke through. Easily done, just be sure to mark where you want the holes to be before drilling. Furthermore, you need to get the LEDs as far through the holes as possible:


Then the final step before sealing the lot up is to get the power wires soldered to the switch and the battery snap:


When you are putting everything in the box, make sure the tilt switch is tilted so that when the die is at rest, the tilt switch is laying in the off position. Otherwise the die will just merrily repeat forever until you turn it off.


And of course, an action video:

Once again I hope that this demonstration has shown how easy it is for anyone with some spare time and the knowledge from my Arduino tutorials can create something from scratch.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, atmega328, dice, games, projects, tutorial4 Comments

Project – ZIF socket Arduino-compatible board

In this tutorial we make an Arduino-compatible board that holds the microcontroller in a ZIF socket.

Updated 18/03/2013

Today we are going to make a different type of Arduino-compatible board, one that has a ZIF (“zero insertion force”) socket. Our reason for making this is simple – now and again you may need to program more than one bootrom with a sketch, for example if you were planning to make your own electronics kits that were based on the Arduino system. Your alternative would be to use a chip puller and constantly insert and remove microcontrollers from your usual Arduino or compatible board – which is bad for the board, bad for the chips (the friction and pressure on the legs, as well as possible static build-up), and bad for your wrist.

So here is our problem – we need a board with a ZIF socket:


The Eleven board is great, but we just cannot squeeze in the socket. So instead, let’s make our own. Like any project, the first thing to do is plan the circuit and make a schematic:


You have to hand it to the Arduino team, they have made things very easy for us. As we are not using this board for day to day use, all we need is enough circuitry to enable programming. In this case, the connection between the board and the PC will be made with an FTDI cable (these offer an interface between serial and the USB port):


Furthermore, we will use the 5 V power supply from the USB port via the FTDI cable as well. Easy! So now it is time to collect the required parts:


You will notice in the photo above there is a button, originally I was going to have a reset button, but after testing it proved unnecessary. Our required parts consist of:

  • one 28-pin ZIF socket, 0.3″ width (don’t fall into the trap of ordering the wide one)
  • An Arduino bootrom for testing, etc
  • one 16 MHz ceramic resonator (easier than using a crystal and two capacitors, timing is not critical as this is only a programming board)
  • 6-pin header strip to connect the FTDI cable to the board
  • an FTDI cable (the 5v one)
  • two 0.1uF ceramic capacitors
  • one 10k ohm resistor
  • some rubber feet (to protect your desk when using the board
  • some veroboard
  • hookup wire, some solder, and the usual tools

Before soldering away, it pays to test the circuit on a breadboard. At this stage you can test the operation, program the microcontroller, and test that microcontroller in another board:


Again, you can ignore the button. For testing purposes, I uploaded the “blink” sketch to the microcontroller, then tested that unit in the Eleven. The LED blinked as expected, so all was good. I repeated the process a few times, but uploaded a different sketch every second time, and re-inserted the bootrom between every upload. After ten cycles of doing this, I was confident with the design, so transferred the lot to the permanent veroboard:


The black marks on the board are to help me navigate, for example the arrow means the 5 V rail, etc. Now for the rear end:


There are high-resolution photos in flickr if you want to follow this design exactly.

Before using the veroboard, experience has taught me that they are always dirty and solder doesn’t take too well. If possible, try and clean your veroboard first with some cleaning spray, usually an aerosol package available from most electronics retailers. Or even just a damp cloth, then dry the board afterwards with a dry cloth. Moving on…

Before testing the completed board, please double check the routing and that you have cut the correct PCB tracks. If you are unsure about some solder joints, use the continuity function or resistance function of a multimeter to check for shorts between tracks.

After the board passed those tests, I stuck on the feet – and admired the finished product:


However, it was time to repeat the testing. If I may make a general observation, try and test things as you move along, step by step. For example, with this project, don’t skip the breadboarding step. It is important to check the design works. Don’t skip checking for solder bridges, or not double-check your routing. It is always much easier to fix a mistake when it has been made, then to have to troubleshoot a ‘completed’ project.

But at the end of the day, I now have something that is useful and will save me time during kit production (still in design stage people), making a few blinky offspring,  and prevent damaging my regular boards. High resolution images are available from flickr.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, atmega328, COM-09420, freetronics, microcontrollers, projects, PRT-09175, tutorial, zif socket6 Comments

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