Author Topic: Interesting microcontrollers from China no one heard about - how to use them?  (Read 15434 times)

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Offline soFPG

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While surfing the internet I found out about some very interesting asian tech-companies. Two of them especially drew my attention:

1. Micon Design Technology
2. Padauk

The reason why they fascinate me are their tiniest, most low-performance microcontroller products. Micon Design Technology produces (or produced? I don't know if this one is EOL) the MDT90P01, a 4-bit EPROM µC (http://www.yspringtech.com/Spec/MDT-OTHERS/90P01.pdf).
Some sellers on alibaba offer them for quite a lot of money for small, hobbyist-sized quantities (one offer I received was 10$ / Piece  :o). Sad enough, the documentation for programming this device is only available in Chinese (http://www.mdtmcu.com/upfiles/file/MDT/90P01%20application.pdf), I found out a few things using google translator for documents. Now I know that the hardware-programmers are called "WMD011" or "WMD021(A)". I did not find any available offers, only a discontinued one for a whopping 250$. And they are still using a serial console to connect to a PC :(
This product must be quite old then.

On the other hand, Padauks controller are available. The PMS150C-U06 is the cheapest microcontroller I found (https://lcsc.com/product-detail/PADAUK_PMS150C-U06_C168658.html), it is only 3 cents! This controller has a better documentation than the one from MDT (https://datasheet.lcsc.com/szlcsc/PMS150C-U06_C168658.pdf), it looks like the device programmer is called "PDK3S-P-002". It is available for about 60$ on some asian websites, their so called "IDE" is quite useable, assembler works fine (http://www.padauk.com.tw/products.php?item=14).

Does anyone here have experience with these devices? The MDT90P01 seems to be quite unusable due to its high price on alibaba and no available hardware-programmer.
I wroter an email to both of their customer services, asking for a small batch of samples but I don't think I will receive an answer ever.

If there is a chance to receive these hardware programmers I would think about reverse engineering the interface and port it as a bit-banging software to an AVR or similiar µC.

(I know that there is the PIC10F200 - I already did a few things with it, I also know both devices described here are OTP, I know that it does not make sense at all to use these devices - but I am excited thinking about using them for a small project).

Edit: Just received a new offer from alibaba for 0.2$ / piece for the MDT90P01 - that's reasonable.

Edit_2: The Assembler for the 4-bit MDTs can be found here: http://www.enroo.com/info/1/263/index.aspx (direct download link: http://www.enroo.com/uploaddir/top/file/MdtAsm4bita.rar)

Edit_3: The Writer software for the WMD011 / WMD021 / WMD021A can be found here (direct download link): http://www.enroo.com/uploaddir/download/software/mdt_new_program/MDTWriterV263.rar
« Last Edit: April 14, 2018, 06:53:28 am by soFPG »
 
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Offline blueskull

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There are a lot of small companies in Taiwan, and recently, mainland China, making those ultra cheap 4-bitters and 8-bitters. Personally I would stay away from them (including the better known STC) because there's no reason for me to use them.

I mean, once the price drops below $1, there's no sense to push the extra money. You can use cheap MCUs to replace timers and logic gates, but then programming and testing will also cost money, so it doesn't end up saving money.

I still prefer to use a powerful MCU to handle everything on board, and when I need some simple logic and timing, I just use standard parts. Saving on the firmware R&D cost and programming and QC cost is more important than saving a few pennies on an MCU versus a few small logic chips.

Another reason is firmware reusability. If you stick with one core architecture and peripheral set, a lot of your code can roam between projects, and that also saves time and money. My top picks are ARM (PSoC5LP/PSoC4) and MSP430 (FRAM series). I probably won't care if I have an OS and HAL (ESP32, ARM-A, etc.), but if I have to code bare metal, I prefer to stay in my comfort zone.

The only reason I can think of why one would like to touch those ultra cheap, custom architecture chips is because they are making something that will be made in millions, and are very cost sensitive (modules, sub-assemblies, white appliances).
 

Offline soFPG

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As I said - I am doing this as a hobby with no commercial interest (at the moment). Its just fun for me (maybe this sounds crazy).

I know that there is a much easier way to do things with µC from more well known companies (Microchip, STM etc.) - but I don't care. In this case, not the project is the focus for me but the µC and its instruction set itself.

I am sorry but I don't want to discuss whether it does make sense to use these or not - at least not in this thread.

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There are a lot of small companies in Taiwan, and recently, mainland China, making those ultra cheap 4-bitters and 8-bitters.
Oh really? Its hard to find any information about 4-bitters, the only other company I know producing them is "EM Microelectronics" in switzerland. Do you know more than the ones already named?

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there's no reason for me to use them
It is just fun for me - that's the best reason, isn't it?  :-[
 

Offline blueskull

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Oh really? Its hard to find any information about 4-bitters, the only other company I know producing them is "EM Microelectronics" in switzerland. Do you know more than the ones already named?

ELAN has some, or at least had some.
Epson has some, though NRND.
Holtek has some, not promoted on their website anymore, but available through their sales channel.
Sinowealth has also 4-bitters, from the cheapest mask MCUs to more expensive OTP ones.
 
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Offline soFPG

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I made another search on some chinese-websites (e.g 1688.com) but they require AliPay as a payment method. Do you recommend to register an AliPay account? Is it safe to use?
They sell a MDT90P01 as cheap as 0.5 Yuan.

Do you have any experience with those tiny microcontrollers or help me getting one of those programmers for the MDT-µC?
 

Online T3sl4co1l

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If you're doing something in such quantities that you are shopping for 4-bit processors, you'll be talking with OEM reps directly.  And also negotiating on a price, and probably getting that price down even further with mask ROM, and fun stuff like that.

If you're doing things in near-zero quantity... seriously?  I mean, you can literally ask a dozen western companies, and they will send you their parts, at their expense!  They want you to use their stuff.  TI has complete dev boards they sell at cost, like $10 to the end user, they probably cost at least as much to make let alone distribute!

So, do you just want 4-bit because it's quirky and weird?  I mean, you can play with that in an FPGA (there's probably an open core for that?), or emulated on any other CPU.  Semantically speaking, it's no different.  So I'd guess you're not after semantics, but then, what?  Just the end-to-end experience of trying to do something that a rude forum member with far more posts than politeness complains about? ...  :-// :P ;D

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Online wraper

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Semantically speaking, it's no different.  So I'd guess you're not after semantics, but then, what?
masochism
 

Online T3sl4co1l

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Semantically speaking, it's no different.  So I'd guess you're not after semantics, but then, what?
masochism

Good point.

Not a bad description of many of my projects... :-DD

Tim
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Offline blueskull

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I made another search on some chinese-websites (e.g 1688.com) but they require AliPay as a payment method. Do you recommend to register an AliPay account? Is it safe to use?

Why not? China has a no cash society (at least for young people), and AliPay and WeChat payment are used for everything low value (food, taxi, super market, etc.).
 

Offline mikeselectricstuff

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I could totally think of uses for a 4 cent MCU. I do wonder if that  price might be a  clear-out reduction rather than the real cost. If the competition is 20-30 cents there's no reason to make one at 4 cents
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Offline soFPG

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Quote
I mean, you can play with that in an FPGA (there's probably an open core for that?), or emulated on any other CPU.
You are right, but a FPGA is much bigger, more expensive and it would only contains the CPU core, no memory or RAM (even though RAM can be synthesized with LUTs). Some FPGAs feature built-in flash storage, but most of them don't. So there would be the need of external components.

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If the competition is 20-30 cents there's no reason to make one at 4 cents
But why are they doing it? Someone is buying their µC, otherwise the would be bankrupt by now.

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Why not?
I don't know - my trust is not particularly high if it comes to chinese payment methods.

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masochism
Maybe - but my point of interest is to design a circuit as small as possible which is able to do things no one thought it would be capable of.

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So, do you just want 4-bit because it's quirky and weird?
Yeah! And I would like to reverse engineer their (OTP)-programming algorithm used by their hardware device-programmers. So in the future more people would be able to use those tiniest µC without the struggle to get a programmer (which is the real problem I think).
 

Online wraper

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Quote
So, do you just want 4-bit because it's quirky and weird?
Yeah! And I would like to reverse engineer their (OTP)-programming algorithm used by their hardware device-programmers. So in the future more people would be able to use those tiniest µC without the struggle to get a programmer (which is the real problem I think).
Programmer is one of the smallest problems associated with use of such MCUs
 

Offline soFPG

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How can the programmer be a minor problem if it is not even available?
Now I am interested in your opinion on what would be a major problem to get these devices running?
I have some experiences handling devices with very limited ressources from working with a PIC10F200 (if that is what you are concerned about)
 

Offline mikeselectricstuff

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If you're in a situation where very low parts cost is important, then the extra effort for coding in assembler, writing an assembler, building a useable production programmer, reverse-engineering programming protocols etc. is probably not a huge deal
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Online wraper

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How can the programmer be a minor problem if it is not even available?
Now I am interested in your opinion on what would be a major problem to get these devices running?
I have some experiences handling devices with very limited ressources from working with a PIC10F200 (if that is what you are concerned about)
You have no documentation, no compiler, no nothing, cannot buy them through normal sources. There are so many showstoppers before you even think about programming, it does not even manner can you program them or not. And when they are OTP, you cannot even play with them without discarding MCU at each try.
 

Offline EEVblog

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I could totally think of uses for a 4 cent MCU.

Especially if you can order entire reels programmed for near that cost.
 
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Offline blueskull

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I could totally think of uses for a 4 cent MCU.

Especially if you can order entire reels programmed for near that cost.

You need a volume application to consume an entire reel of them. They usually start with 3000pcs (MOQ from SiLego).
If I try to force myself to use a customized semi-ASIC for some common purpose, I probably can persuade myself to order 500pcs of pre-programmed OTP chips. 3000? Not a chance.

While I believe we have some consumer product engineers on this forum, I believe we have more industrial/medical/niche or other high margin, low volume product engineers here.
If we are discussing the necessity of some 4 cent MCUs, it should better happen on some Chinese or Korean forums.

I don't know how on earth did they get to the 4 cent price point, but even in HQB, a simplest chip (74hc14) is more expensive than that.
 

Offline soFPG

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There is indeed some documentation, at least for the Padauk uCs. The user manual describes how to connect the chip to the programmer and what software to use. I already played with the IDE. It is pretty straight forward to use even though its UI looks like from Windows 95.
There is less documentation for the MDT ones. But a document describes which tools are needed and how the device programmer is called. So it should be possible to figure that out as well.
Alibaba is a reasonable source - like Aliexpress where I ordered several times already.
You are right regarding the OTP thing. But you can buy 10 Padauk chips for one PIC10F200 - they even have timer and overflow interrupts!

Edit: I do not speak korean or chinese. Would be kinda sad if there would not be a place for this discussion on this forum.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2018, 11:40:09 am by soFPG »
 

Online BravoV

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I made another search on some chinese-websites (e.g 1688.com) but they require AliPay as a payment method. Do you recommend to register an AliPay account? Is it safe to use?

Why not? China has a no cash society (at least for young people), and AliPay and WeChat payment are used for everything low value (food, taxi, super market, etc.).

Just saying ...

"... online payments is the clearest example where China has leapfrogged the United States, with mobile phones replacing credit cards almost entirely as a form of payment in major Chinese cities, while “many Americans still use cheques.”

Source -> https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-intellectualproperty/trade-war-or-not-china-is-closing-the-gap-on-u-s-in-technology-ip-race-idUSKBN1HK187
 
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Offline coppice

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I don't know how on earth did they get to the 4 cent price point, but even in HQB, a simplest chip (74hc14) is more expensive than that.
The 74HC14's price is held higher by its 14 pin package. Packaging costs tend to dominate with these simple die parts. The 3.82 cent MCU is in a 6 pin pack. In volume that can probably be sold for 4 cents. What looks strange is they seem to be offering them in small volumes for 4 cents.
 

Offline amyk

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I don't know how on earth did they get to the 4 cent price point, but even in HQB, a simplest chip (74hc14) is more expensive than that.
The 74HC14's price is held higher by its 14 pin package. Packaging costs tend to dominate with these simple die parts. The 3.82 cent MCU is in a 6 pin pack. In volume that can probably be sold for 4 cents. What looks strange is they seem to be offering them in small volumes for 4 cents.
Indeed,and if you want bare die (large volumes only --- they won't sell you a single dice, nor even 1000), you'll find the price drops through the floor... I've heard <$0.01USD for 4-bit mask ROM ones (the mask cost is not cheap, however, so these are for ultra-high-volume applications.)
 

Offline Kjelt

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Back in 2006 I was talking to a uC manufacturer in China about their 4 bit uC then costing $0,11 and lower with high volume we were discussing. It could replace $0,40 of logic on our boards so quite interesting with massproduction.
There were some bizar quirks in those things. They were manufactured for one single goal: cheap toys.
The manufacturing process was not as you expect from fabs these days with a result that in your firmware at boottime you had to test the ram since unknown bits would (not could) be dead and you had to make a map so not to use that byte in ram. Also upto 2% of the devices would have problems in the alu or other critical parts. I asked how I could know that the first code would run ok if the ram was not to be trusted. The answer was you could tell from the end product if it worked or not. :-DD
I couldnt believe this but had it b&w in an email.
They probably also sell 100% tested uCs that had no flaws but that was pricewise much less interesting.


 
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Offline soFPG

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Call me crazy but I ordered an ICE for the Padauk-uCs yesterday  >:D
I hope I will receive it - you never know how trustworthy those chinese shops are.

I also added links to some executables needed to work with the MDTs - their programmer costs about 100USD.

Quote
you had to test the ram since unknown bits would (not could) be dead and you had to make a map so not to use that byte in ram
Does not sound like smth I would look forward to work with. Let's see...

Taobao has a lot of those controllers for as low as $0.02- that's crazy.
« Last Edit: April 14, 2018, 08:04:59 am by soFPG »
 

Offline janekm

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Chips like these do have their place. For example, I have a project that is using an I2C bus for extension modules. If I want to use a chip on one of those that doesn't offer I2C interface I'll have to create an adapter; there are specialised chips for that but they are expensive.

Similarly, you might like to have a microcontroller in a battery pack to keep track of charge cycles.

OTP is not such a big hurdle at the cost of these chips ;) they're literally cheaper than potato chips...
 
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Offline westfw

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Even if I've never fallen into the whole "RAM is free" trap that us embedded folks decry in desktop programmers, I'm afraid that my workflow patterns are no longer compatible with OTP microcontrollers.  Or even "UV-erase and program in a separate device", though I could probably manage.

Which is a shame, because I once bought a bunch of Toshiba OTP 4bit chips (TMP47P443 I think?) (alas, no tools exist.  I don't think free tools ever did.  There was an assembler you could purchase, and programming is done with some sort of adapter board that makes it look "almost" like one of the EPROMs of the day.)

These days, if I'm looking for 'really cheap' in the "sorta big quantities, for a hobbyist" range, I browse through Newark's "overstock" list.  (currently for example, NXP/Freescale/Motorola MC9RS08KA1CSCR (1k pgm, soic8) for $0.14.  A little while ago, MC9S08QD4 (4k PGM, better CPU) for $0.08 and MC9RS08KA (8k, SOIC16) for $0.06) (I bought 100 each of those.  I almost entered the "Black Widow" contest that was sponsored around the QD4, some years ago.   I think I have the evalBoard/programmer around.  Somewhere.))
 


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