Monday, June 15, 2009

More on (embedded) C++

Interesting paper regarding using C++ for embedded work by Stroustrup. I wonder how much of this is taken to heart by embedded developers.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Evaluating the Cortex-M3

So, I have 2 evaluation kits: the stm32circle and the stm32-performancestick. Each under $100 and each with interesting features and annoyances. I've spent around $130 between the two.

I suppose it would have made more sense to just get the Olimex header board ( STM32-H103) for $40, a $70-100 JTAG, and GCC, but the point of the evaluation excercise is NOT to spend hours doing the "let's build everything from scratch". When the right integrated environment is chosen it sometimes worth the money. I still (and will continue to) do my source code editing in emacs but I have become pampered by the often richer experience of debugging with a decent IDE.

I would still like to just use emacs + gdb + gcc for development, but while I'm learning the chip I'd rather have an IDE with integrated documentation and GUI hand holding. My days of grunting manly about how I built all my tools by hand and debug via gdb command line is probably over. I will probably never replace my beloved emacs (used mainly out of habit) for editing and browsing code, but the point here is to hit the ground running and focus on the Cortex.

So far... stm32circle and Raisonance is nice, but I have no interest in CircleOS, so I've yet to see what it offers me in turns of raw EABI programming. Raisonance Ride is limiting me to 32KB debugging. I suppose I won't be using a lot of the advanced features of the stm32circle (color LCD, sound, etc) but it is a very rich platform (for only $40).

The smt32-performance sticks comes through Hitex (which is promising me unlimited debugging after I send them email). No response yet. The older license key (I am using the most up to date version of the debugger) doesn't work. They said I should email them a request for a new license. I was able to run their "dashboard" which allows me to do some performance/power tests. This is very informative.

At some point I will choose one or the other to do some development with. I guess I am hoping that the stm32circle will "win". Ride7 looks nice (reminds me of Crossworks). I need to see how well it does without forcing me into CircleOS.

I'll post updates in the next couple of days.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Forth on the Cortex-M3?

I can't seem to find any Forth running on a Cortex-M3 (let alone an ARM Thumb).  This is the reason why I started to look at C++ again.  I'm getting sick of plain old C -- great for little things, but I have bigger fish to fry.

I won't bother to convince myself that I have time to craft/port a Forth to the Cortex.  However, I wonder if porting a Forth written in C is an acceptable compromise?


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Stroustrup's new book

I swore I would never do C++ programming again (3 yrs ago). Never say never. I realize that I miss some of the abstractive capabilities compared to C. I don't miss OO, I miss Generic Programming.

I was browsing Reiters a couple of weeks ago and was shocked to find this book. C++ as a first language? I was intrigued. I think that Stroustrup is a good concise writer and I wondered what an "intro to programming" book would look like (coming from his hands).

I purchased the book last week.

The book is interesting. I don't know how well it would do with a newbie, but I tend to like his no-bullshit approach. It is quite refreshing. He is very pragmatic and I liked how STL (generic programming) takes a front seat.

I am also a fan of Alexander Stepanov. He has a book coming out this month. I've already pre-ordered it.

This nicely meshes wth my current interest in Cortex M3 microcontrollers. I don't want to resort to C programming when I start messing with my Primer.

Friday, June 05, 2009

IAR, STL and the MSP430

Apparently, the IAR MSP430 compiler supports C++'s STL.  My jaw drops.

In my previous post, I alluded to the desire to try generic programming on a Cortex M3.  Out of curiosity, I wondered whether or not it would be possible/practical to do C++ on an MSP430.

Well,  after some deep digging I've found that IAR has "some" C++ support that includes the STL!

How efficient can it be? Well, I don't like resorting to dynamic memory allocation when I don't have to (and certainly not on an MSP430) but I decided to give some basic STL algorithms a try.  I am less concerned about performance than about code size. STL is (undeservedly, IMHO) notorious about being a source of bloat.

Here is the sample code:

#include  <msp430x54x.h>
#include <numeric>
#include <functional>

static volatile int res;

int main( void )
  int a[] = { 9, 1, 5, 6, 7, 8};
  // Stop watchdog timer to prevent time out reset
  res = accumulate(a,a+sizeof(a)/sizeof(int),0);
  res = accumulate(a, a+sizeof(a)/sizeof(int), 1, multiplies<int>());

  return 0;

This compiles to 250 bytes of CODE, 162 bytes of DATA and 12 bytes of CONST  with default compile settings. (Some of the DATA is pre-sized stack and heap.)

With the highest optimization settings this compiles to 180 bytes of CODE, 162 bytes of DATA and 12 bytes of CONST.

I am impressed.

Sure this was a contrived test, but I am amazed that I could even do this.

Is this more efficient than a hand written accumulator? No. There are function calls here that wouldn't exist if I were to do it by hand. However, this may scale better than I could muster by hand:  By cherry picking STL algorithms I am choosing to be more type "aware".  I am also avoiding writing stuff like:
  for (int i=0; i < sizeof(a)/sizeof(int); i++)
    res += a[i];
Simple, right? But do you see the two potential problems? First, I never initialized "res". Second, I introduced another variable "i".  While the STL code has the overhead of function calls, it uses the more space efficient technique of incrementing through "a" rather than indexing.

I'm not planning on using the STL for any real MSP430 work. That would be overkill.  But the Cortex M3 is a different issue...

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

C++ on ARM Cortex-M3?

I've been wondering how many people use C++ on ARMs. I don't mean C++ as in a "better C", but C++ in full (sans dynamic memory management and exception handling -- both casting non-determinism on systems seeking deterministic behavior).

The embedded development community/industry seems stuck in C.  (I'm talking truly embedded here -- not Linux gumsticks, not "single board computers", etc.)

How about C++ with STL (but without vector and other containers that use new/malloc)?
Does this buy you anything?

There has to be an alternative to C.  I wish it was Forth, but there doesn't even seem to be a Forth for Cortex.

I love C, but it doesn't scale very well (when it comes to abstractions and type safety).

How would generic programming (templates) look on an MCU?  Would I be able to come up with a template that would let me abstract away SPI and UART code?

Is Embedded C++ (with templates) inevitable?

The prospect almost makes me want to buy this: (a Cortex M3 demo/devkit for < $40).