Microchip MPLAB Xpress Evaluation Board & Cloud IDE

I was lucky enough to be one of the few to get a free MPLAB Xpress Evaluation board before the news hit sites like Hackaday. Due to demand, Microchip is now offering a discount code for those who sign up which can then be used to purchase one from the Microchip Direct store once more become available. You can read more about MPLAB Xpress here: https://www.microchip.com/mplab/mplab-xpress

Details on the actual eval board are pretty scarce on the website. The general stats are:

  • PIC16F18855 8-bit microcontroller
  • PIC18LF25K50 providing the USB interface & programming
  • 4x Red LEDs
  • Potentiometer
  • User Pushbutton
  • mikro BUS header

Note: a micro USB cable is not included (which would end up in the bin for most people I think as I already have too many).

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Plugging the eval board into my macbook pro resulted in a new USB mass storage device appearing. Inside it is a HTM file which links to the Microchip MPLAB Xpress page. To program the board, the online cloud-based MPLAB Xpress IDE generates a hex file download, which you then copy across to the USB storage drive. The file is automatically flashed and starts up straight away. I had zero problems opening up one of the demo applications, building it, downloading the hex file, and programming it. Literally within 5 mins of unboxing this eval board I had a new program on it. On a MAC. Cross-OS support for development tools is usually pretty terrible (looking at you MSP430 Launchpads with TI USB-Serial chips with no OSX drivers and poor linux ones). Loading up the MPLAB Xpress web interface for the first time can be a little bit slow, but once you’re on it’s pretty responsive. I was using Chrome, but Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer are also supported. One would assume Microsoft Edge is supported as well.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 2.35.28 PM

First demo is fairly simple. It reads in the potentiometer value and adjusts the brightness of all 4 leds. Once I dropped the file onto the drive, it was programmed instantly in under a second.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 2.59.30 PM

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Initial impressions are very good. It just works. No hassles, no software installation, no driver issues. Just generate a file and drop it onto a fake flash drive. Easy as.

For those of you who hate the idea of being reliant on the cloud service, don’t worry. You can generate the same hex file from a local version of MPLAB IDE and drop it into the programmer just the same. Looking forward to a universal programmer being released that supports other PIC chips. Always great to have options and for certain people, this tool is going to be great.

Posted in Electronics.

6 Comments

  1. Thnx for the review, sounds very positive and that’s how I feel about it as well. I have to wait unfortunately till the boards can be bought. There were a lot of negative replies on Hackaday, I think we should be quite happy…

    I would primarily be interested in having the online IDE. I do not plan to use the board much, but I’d love to program my PIC’s (all PICs I have are supported in the online compiler!), through it. From your pictures, one part of the PCB says “programmer” and I saw a photo from the other side, where it looks like contacts for ICSP programming.

    If that is true, we’re there, as I think programming a PIC does not require any other connections / signals. I have no idea why Microchip didn’t use pins here for easy connecting, but for hobbyists, it would be easy to solder some wires. Al other pins on the board in the part that is called application, are normal I/O ports, or are the ICSP signals available there as well?

    • You should be able to follow any project or tutorial for MPLAB X that targets this particular PIC chip or similar. The online interface is virtually identical and the output files are the same. The example projects Microchip are a good start to look at which make use of the few things Microchip have included on the dev board.

    • Hah yeah it’s not totally reinventing the wheel, but it’s a sensible solution to use when the IDE is in the cloud. Too many dev tools end up being OS specific.

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