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The development of an 8051 micro-controller evaluation and training board
De Beer, Daniel Nel
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The development of the 8051 Evaluation and Training Board was in response to fulfill a need to have a training board available for students at the start of a micro-controller course. This board must be used to get hands-on experience in the internal architecture, programming and operation of the controller through the testing of sample programs and exercises. It can act as an example of a practical micro-controller application board, and also as part of, or as an aid in the design and application of own projects. The board had to be cheap enough so that each student can be issued with a personal board for the duration of the course. It had to be adequately selfsufficient to be portable and to operate independent of a host PC. In addition, it had to contain adequate "intelligence" to guide the student in the use of the board: have a quick re-programming turn-around cycle; and it must be possible to use the board for user program testing and debugging. After drawing up an initial set of objectives and investigating the economic viability of similar systems in industry, an outline of the required design was made. This included the selection of suitable communication between the onboard Operating System and a user; the easiest way to load user programs into the board memory; and methods to test and debug this program. All the normal support circuitry required by a micro-controller to accommodate a minimum system for operation was included into a single Field Programmable Gate Array. The execution of the project was therefore divided into three distinct sections, the hardware, the firmware (Programmable Array configuration) and the software. In the design, the harmony between these sections had to be consolidated to yield a successful final product. The simplicity and ergonomics of the operation and application from a user's point of view, had to be accentuated and kept in mind throughout. In a design of the complexity such as this, careful planning and the investigation of various methods of approach were essential. The use of many computer-aided design and other relevant computer packages was incorporated. Interaction between the user and the Operating System on the board was done through a standard 16-character by 1-line LCD Display Module and a 32-key keyboard. The main feature of the Operating System was to enable the inspection and editing of all the memory locations on the micro-processor.