Maximite Compatible. The World’s First Arduino Computer.

Maximite Compatible. The World's First Arduino Computer.
By Don McKenzie. Dontronics.com

An Open Source Hardware Project. (OSHW)

An update to this story can be found at:
/duinomite-a-maximite-compatible-from-olimex/

In the Arduino movie documentary: http://arduinothedocumentary.org/

The question is posed, "At least one Arduino Computer, Why Not?"

The Italian Arduino project was initially based on an AVR micro,
(early history states PIC was first used, see: http://www.thebackshed.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=3926&PN=1)
and the "C" language. Because of the success of the platform, it recently migrated across to Microchip's PICmicro hardware originally based on the 18F2550, and called Pinguino. See: http://www.hackinglab.org/pinguino/index_pinguino.html

This has now moved onto PIC32 micros, and boards have recently been manufactured by Olimex in Bulgaria. see: http://www.olimex.com/dev/pic32-pinguino.html

Many other PICmicro Arduino type boards have also appeared. I apologize for not covering them all in this small introduction.

Now for the strange twist, to move it onto what you could possibly call a computer system.

An Australian by the name of Geoff Graham, has come up with a small computer system based on the PIC32MX695F512H. The PIC32MX795F512H (with CAN) can also be used. This is called The Maximite Computer, and has been reasonably successful in Australia, however is basically unknown to the rest of the world.

This computer system uses BASIC, not "C", in fact BASIC very much like the old TRS-80 and Commodore computers of 30+ years ago.

This is a portion of Geoff's description from his Maximite project page at: http://geoffg.net/maximite.html

The Maximite is a small and versatile computer running a full featured BASIC interpreter with 128K of working memory.

It will work with a standard VGA monitor and PC compatible keyboard and because the Maximite has its own built in SD memory card and BASIC language you need nothing more to start writing and running BASIC programs.

The Maximite also has 20 input/output lines which can be independently configured as analog inputs, digital inputs or digital outputs. You can measure voltage, frequencies, detect switch closure, etc and respond by turning on lights, closing relays, etc – all under control of your BASIC program.

The design is free and open source including the software and BASIC interpreter. And all this is powered by a single chip which costs just US$8.44

Geoff's design allows you to run this computer system as a stand alone unit with local VGA and keyboard, or via a USB connection to any computer system that supports USB and a terminal program. You can use either, or both at the same time.

What makes this computer (or Micro-Controller) unique is that you power it up. You don't need to load any software, and write a simple program like PRINT "Hello World" in BASIC. You can control the 20 input output pins very simply just setting them high, or low, or reading them in. You don't have to learn "C". When your simple program is written, you can save the basic text program to an SD card, that can be read and saved on your PC. Support Forum is extremely active.

And why not have the ability to program all of the Arduino shields in BASIC? It is only software, and it will be generated by users eventually.

I was adapting the Maximite design as best I could to the Arduino shield platform, so we could take advantage of the many available shields, but it became apparent to many people that the Olimex PIC32 Pinguino board, was very close to what was required for a Maximite Arduino Computer.

Olimex and Dontronics have gathered a small team together to match the Maximite software and hardware to the Pinguino platform.

This is a Maximite compatible product, however there is no official support, apart from the Help Forum members.

Let me point out that I am just a customer, and this will be an Olimex board, not a Dontronics board, so it will be available for everyone.

We are going over the final details now, and it is almost design by committee, so it is very awkward to pin everything down.

It goes from a basic Maximite circuit, right up to a fully populated PIC32 do everything board.

But this isn't possible of course, on something the size of an Arduino footprint, so there will be trade offs.

What we must have:
Arduino connector with compatible port arrangement i.e. SPI, I2C etc connected on proper pins to make maximal compatibility with Arduino shields.

Plus:
- USB
- VGA
- PS/2
- microSD card
- Audio connector
- Composite video connector
- user button, reset button
- two LEDs

An I/O satellite board with audio, video, VGA, and Keyboard sockets, will attach via a 10 pin IDC connector. This is the 10 pin header on the left of the above picture.

And there may be a whole host of features added that are much the same as the Olimex Pinquino boards. If these aren't added initially, they may be allowed for in the artwork so that they can be populated to different levels, and possibly ordered with the required level to suit the end user.

The standard Olimex UEXT header allows for WiFi, Zigbee, Ethernet, RELAY-IO, RFID etc modules to be connected. This is the header on the right hand side.

Ethernet on board will just raise the cost. Once we have the UEXT header, we can connect MOD-ENC28J60 or MOD-WIFI to implement internet /ethernet connectivity.

PLEASE NOTE ***

Possibly none of these enhancements over the standard Maximite features, will be supported in the official MM-Basic, but there is the possibility they will be included by other users, such is the beauty of Open Source hardware and Software, we cannot expect support to be offered on this board from Geoff Graham

Eventually of course, anything can, and will happen. I know it will be user driven.

I could list the features that may be added. It is really mind boggling, but to be fair, I should only mention the items that we are 100% certain of at this point.

And I know it will be a great board for C programmers also. They should also be able to make use of the VGA and keyboard connectors with suitable drivers.

FAQ:

Q) When will it happen?
A) Approx. October 2011.

Q) Will the 20 I/O pins be different to the currently produced Maximites?
A) Yes, as there is no other way of arranging the Arduino shields to be as compatible as possible on a PIC32 Micro, apart from re-assigning the current pins.
Geoff Graham, will support the original Maximite I/O configuration, into the foreseeable future. But of course the firmware will take the pin changes into account and will work as a maximite and run all of the current software without change.

Q) Is there any software support for the Olimex Maximite Compatible Board?
A) No. However Help Forum members should be able to assist on most occasions.

All of Dontronics current Maximite products can be seen at:
http://www.dontronics-shop.com/the-maximite-computer.html

Standard Maximite Boards Assembled and Tested are available from:
http://www.dontronics-shop.com/maximite-sm1.html

A dedicated blog can be found at: /

On Line support from the designer and other Forum members: http://www.thebackshed.com/forum/forum_topics.asp?FID=16&PN=1
Support is only available for official Maximite boards that are using the original schematic, and not compatibles.

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8 Responses to Maximite Compatible. The World’s First Arduino Computer.

  1. Dave Jones says:

    Why are the essential keyboard and monitor connectors on seperate board?
    It is not a standalone computer if you need an extra board to plug in to get it working.
    There is room for an RCA composite and PS2 keybaord connector on the board, surely.

  2. Don McKenzie says:

    Unfortunately Dave, you have to have trade offs on an Arduino footprint. We may well add a DB-9 for Serial comms to the main board, however this isn't set in concrete yet. Same as CAN, this may be added. Also USB-OTG, RTC and battery backup. You simply can't build everything into a small footprint.

    The fact that the VGA-Keyboard connection may be on a small plug in board is an advantage, in as much as it can be snapped off for a minimal configuration. We are only talking about a 10 pin Male-female header here. And the device will run your BASIC program without VGA and Keyboard connected. In many applications, you won't want these items connected. 

    Cheers Don…
     

     

  3. Dave Jones says:

    But having no basic video and keyboard interface on the main board ruins the "out of the box" computer experience for people IMO.
     

  4. Don McKenzie says:

    Sorry David, I may be missing your point here.

    Are you saying that not having it on a single printed circuit board means it isn't a computer?

    If this is so, then doesn't this mean that everything from the PC XT onwards, isn't a computer system?

    This is two boards that plug together. When you finish your development, you remove one, so that it becomes smaller, cheaper, and is generally more suited to the final application.

    Imagine if we were to join the two boards together, and remove the 10 pin IDC connectors. Would this be a computer system, and give people the out of the box experience you are talking about? Then everyone would have to wear the extra cost of these connectors that they may never use.

    What if they want 100 controllers for a specific application, and don't need these connectors. They have to wear them even if they don't want them?

    I am sure there will be many versions of the Maximite. This is just one version. As it is open source hardware, users are welcome to create whatever it is they want and need, and no doubt will.

    I am happy to leave the board design to Olimex, as they have had many years of experience in the market place, and possibly SparkFun's largest supplier. If they say two boards, then it is two boards.

    Cheers Don…
     

  5. Dave Jones says:

    Yes, that's what I mean.
    A personal computer has video and keyboard interfaces built in as a minimum to make them work.
    It is semantics when you start talking whether or not they are on the same board, but because this version of the Maximite does not have a case, then if the Maximite board is to be considered a personal computer, it should have the connector on that board IMO. I think the differentiation is important in this case.
    An RCA socket, a PS/2 socket, and a couple of resistors cost virtually nothing these days, so it adds very little to the board cost, and nothing to the board size.
    The advantage of having them on the same board is that beginners can INSTANTLY SEE that the board is a computer, because it has a monitor and keyboard interface. Without it, it's just seems like another Arduino clone unless you read the fine print of how it actually works.

  6. Dave Jones says:

    It's a similar thing with the Arduino. It comes with the "redundant" USB FTDI serial interface built onto the board, adding extra cost and complexity, but that's one of the reasons why it's so successful – you don't have to buy anything else, it just plugs into the USB.
    Other cheaper and simpler versions are available that don't have that redundant circuitry, but the most popular one does have it.
    It's the same thing with the Maximite. Sure it has the USB and you can use a serial terminal, but IMO the "crown jewell" of the Maximite is it's ability to hook up directly to a keyboard and monitor.
    Not to put that on the basic beginner board  seems silly to me.

  7. Vasi says:

    Well Olimex thought their boards will be used in an Industrial environment. Here a part of their board description:

    - The Pinguino32 features industrial grade components with industrial grade temperature work range -25+85C.
    - The Pinguino32 has a noise immune design, wide input power supply (6-30VDC) which will enable this board to be used in industrial applications where 24VDC is common.
    - Special care for Analog part with separate power supply (ADC values noise free).

    This is why they imagined a modular system. For industrial use. For small automated factories I think it works. You go there for an update only with a SD-Card or, if visual verification is needed, you can go with the extension card with LCD monitor and a keyboard. If Basic is too slow, then you can use Pinguino IDE and simply program in Wiring/Arduino language (or just copy a community code if your application suits that). I bet Pinguino IDE will support the new board, including the keyboard and the VGA LCD.

    But for a laboratory Arduino computer, which can be used at schools/universities and home, better be a single board. In fact you can learn on an all in one board, then apply your knowledge on the industrial boards.

    This is how I see it.

  8. Don McKenzie says:

    /duinomite-a-maximite-compatible-from-olimex/
    has more specific information on this post.

    Cheers Don…