TI MSP430 software developers need a little help

I’ve been working for a while on using MSP430 microcontrollers. We selected them for a bunch of reasons, including price, availability, physical size, USB support, and preloaded bootloader. As it turns out, a few of those weren’t quite in the shape we expected.

Programming difficulties

First, the bootloader is really a bare minimum. It does not cover such features as programming the flash memory on its own, so tools like python-msp430-tools download a secondary bootloader into RAM in order to function. That bootloader was presented as a binary blob, although with much searching it is possible to find the Custom Bootstrap Loader sources via a link within application note SLAA450 “Creating a Custom Flash-Based Bootstrap Loader (BSL)”. It’s also explicitly mentioned at the Software Tools section, with a link titled Open Source, but that goes to a wiki which does not provide this link. In the end, however, I gave up on that because not only is it obviously not free software or even open source, it completely failed to communicate once loaded. I ended up writing a workaround based on the user guide and BSL protocol guide (buried in an mbox file here, if you need it).

USB framework

The MSP430 USB Developers Package provides example code for USB. In fact, it contains no less than 52 copies of the same USB library – in turn divided into 4 USB device class sections and one common, all with lots of code duplication. It makes it all too clear that no forethought has gone into what’s a common section, as there’s no common code for talking to other endpoints than number 0; the rest is not only duplicated among classes, but present multiple times for each.

Once I got my code at least partially working with the USB library, I found some odd bugs – for instance, the MCU could hang when sent a bunch of data in quick succession. I tracked this down to an issue that’s not limited to the USB code, but in fact present already in SLAA294 “MSP430 Software Coding Techniques” – the starting point for pretty much all MSP430 code.

The above flowchart is based on one in SLAA294, and illustrates the combination of interrupts to react to events with a main thread that uses power saving sleep modes. The USB code didn’t even manage to follow this much, by the way; it was more sensitive to interrupt timing because the “Clear flag_1” portion was moved to after the “Execute flag_1 handler” section, meaning it could miss if this flag was applied again. However, this is only part of the problem.

There are two fundamental errors in the flowchart. First, there is no exit shown from the “Enter sleep” step, although it does continue to the first flag test once woken up. Secondly, the interrupts do not cause control to flow into that same test; they will return to wherever the main thread was. This could be anywhere within the main loop, including just before the “enter sleep” step – in which case the MCU will dutifully sleep until the next interrupt. For a simple example of this, consider what happens if first event 2 occurs, then event 1 while the main thread is at the flag_2 test step the second time around.

I propose a fairly simple solution. We add one more variable, let’s call it SR_sleep, containing the SR value used to enter sleep mode. When the ISRs decide to wake the main thread, they set not only the SR but also SR_sleep to active mode. Then the Enter sleep step is modified to contain precisely two instructions: One copies SR_sleep into SR, which will cause the main thread to sleep if SR_sleep has not been modified by an interrupt. The second sets SR_sleep to the sleep value. This acts similarly to the flags used to identify specific events, except there is no test; SR_sleep is set back to the sleep state immediately on wakeup, as we already know an interrupt must have occurred. This completely removes the window of time in which an interrupt may set a flag but fail to stop the main thread going to sleep. The trick revolves around the MSP430 not interrupting within an instruction, and being capable of loading SR from a memory variable in one instruction.

It gets somewhat more complicated if the main thread uses multiple sleep levels. In that case, the instruction resetting SR_sleep should read from a variable where the desired sleep mode is stored.

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