Freescale MCU Dev Kit Doc – In a Word, “Aaaaargh!”

demoqe128phototn.gif Engineers buy and use development kits and evaluation boards to minimise their risk and speed the design cycle — many say they expect to get something working on a new board in a mere 30 minutes or less. So when the documentation sucks, often contradicting itself or leaving out critical details, it can be insanely frustrating. And it’s especially wrenching when the hardware is interesting and useful, as engineer/writer Jon Titus recently discovered trying out a new microcontroller dev kit from Freescale. “I have a Freescale kit here that could let engineers compare performance of 8- and 32-bit MCUs in the company’s new Flexis family. The same code should run in either processor type, which sounds like an interesting capability for engineers. But the written instructions are so awful many engineers will give up. And, nowhere in the instructions does the kit explain its purpose or provide examples readers can use to compare performance, code size, and other characteristics for each of the two processor types.

Here’s an example from the kit that jumps into an “example,” but with only brief introductory material that states the demo program can run on either processor the kit provides: 1. Open DEMOQE 128_Quick_Start project by double clicking on .mcp file inside of the project folder. Huh? Where am I when I need to click on “.mcp file”? Where’s the project folder and what does it look like? Am I supposed to run some program first? Where do I find the DEMOQE 128_Quick_Start project? By trial and error I figured out what to do. But after going through many steps, the instructions fail to explain what I’m supposed to do with this project. I guess I can stare at the C-language code until I get bored and decide to do something else. That’s it, end of story for the project. No tutorial, no walk through. Aaaaargh!!!” I wonder how many projects IC vendors such as Microchip, Freescale, and others get locked out of because engineers can’t make sense of basic dev-kit instructions? What sort of experience have you had with dev kits and tools — do they meet or fall short of your expectations?”

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5 Comments

  1. Chris
    September 06, 2007 14:53

    I can say that dev kits from Cirrus Logic have always been well documented, in my experience. I’ve used various dev kits for their 9307 and 9315 processors (under Windows CE, not Linux) and they have had solid documentation (and plenty of help from FAEs). (I am in no way associated with Cirrus Logic, other than having been a software engineer at a previous company who purchased Cirrus Logic processors.)

  2. Jon Titus
    August 31, 2007 15:46

    Bert and George:
    Yes, that URL provides the starting info for the Freescale kit. But the kit aims to help users understand the differences and similarities between the 8-bit and 32-bit members of the Freescale Flexis family. Unfortunately, the kit offers no information about how to use the different processors provided nor does it explain how to compare the efficiency of the hardware and application code on each processor. Based on my original critique, Freescale has updated some of its information. Check it out:
    “[New] materials are posted for our customers at http://www.freescale.com/flexis (under DEMOQE128 resources on the right).”
    This information includes several new experiments users can try. –Jon

  3. Bert
    August 30, 2007 21:53

    I may be missing something, but the file at http://www.freescale.com/files/microcontrollers/doc/user_guide/DEMOQE128QSG.pdf?fpsp=1
    seems to decently cover getting started with this kit. It does cover DEMOQE128 and mentions tutorials being present after you install the kit software. Maybe the kit was missing this critical file from the CD?

  4. George
    August 17, 2007 04:31

    What about deez though?

  5. Karen Field
    August 10, 2007 15:18

    Don’t get me started on bad documentation!! I bought a new doorbell assembly last weekend and the instructions were very helpfully only in Spanish. At any rate it was a total wash, as the problem turned out to be a bad transformer. Sigh…back to the hardware store.

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