A Real Time Clock (RTC) is a timing element dedicated for keeping time. In many applications, especially where precise timed-operations are needed to be performed, a RTC is a very useful tool. Examples of such applications apart from clocks and watches include washing machines, medicine dispensers, data loggers, etc. Basically a RTC is a timer-counter but unlike other timers of a MCU it is much more accurate. Previous to this post, we explored STM32 timers but those were useful for applications like PWM generation, time-bases and other waveform-related tasks. Those were not suitable for precise time-keeping. In most 8-bit MCUs like the regular PICs and AVRs, there are no built-in RTC modules and so we need to use dedicated RTC chips like the popular DS1302 or PCF8563 when we need an on-board precise time-keeping device. Those chips also need some additional circuitry, wiring and circuit board space. At present, however, most modern MCUs come packed with literally every possible hardware a designer may think of. It is only up to a designer to decide which resources to use from a modern-era micro to meet a specific design goal. Gone are the days when MCUs were manufactured for application specific requirements and also gone are the days of implementing and involving multiple assets in a design. Thus cost, time and space are dramatically reduced, resulting smarter, sleeker and smaller affordable devices. Fortunately STM32s are in that list of those modern era microcontrollers. STM32 MCUs come with built-in RTC modules that require no additional hardware support. This tutorial covers basic features of STM32’s internal RTC and how to use it for time-keeping applications.
After having played with Analogue-to-Digital Converter (ADC) of STM32 micros, the obvious next internal hardware block to deal with is the Digital-to-Analogue Converter (DAC). As the name suggests this block has just the complementary function of ADC. It converts digital binary values to analogue voltage outputs. The DAC block has several uses including audio generation, waveform generation, etc. Typically in most 8-bit micros, this block is unavailable and its need is somewhat loosely met with Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) block. This is partly because of their relatively less hardware resources and operating speeds. All STM32 micros also have PWM blocks but large capacity STM32s have DAC blocks too. The STM32 DAC block is not very complex and has similarity with the ADC block in terms of operating principle. The simplified block diagram below shows the major components of the STM32 DAC block.
Most of us who have experienced 8-bit MCUs previously know how much important it is to have an Analogue-to-Digital Converter (ADC) built-in with a microcontroller. Apart from other hardware extensions unavailable in the early era microcontrollers, many former 8051 microcontroller users shifted primarily to more robust Atmel AVRs and Microchip PICs just for this important peripheral. I don’t feel it necessary to restate the advantages of having such a peripheral embedded in a micro. In traditional 8-bit MCUs aforementioned, the ADC block is somewhat incomplete and users have to work out tricky methods to solve certain problems. The ADC block of STM32 micros is one of the most advanced and sophisticated element to deal with in the entire STM32 arena. There are way too many options for this block in a STM32 micro. In this issue, we will explore this block. Read more
Everything related to digital electronics is related to time. Timer, counter, frequency, pulse width, clock and time are the most common words one may find in this arena. Microcontrollers just like humans need heart-beats and these come from clock sources. Apart from system clock, timers are clock sources that can be used as heart-beats for various applications. All modern micros are embedded with timer-counter modules and generally they are used for generating time bases, counting pulses, measuring time periods of waveforms, generating pulse width modulation (PWM) signals, triggering external devices and timing special events. STM32 micros have several timers designed for such applications. However unlike most 8-bit micros which possess two/three timers with limited functionalities, the timers of STM32s are very elaborate and complex. This explains why documentations related to timer modules take about 25% of any STM32 reference manual.
Before we begin exploring STM32 timers, I must point out that I won’t be able to cover every aspect of all timer modules as they are vast and need lot of explanations, something which is beyond the scope of a single post. This is why in this issue we shall explore the very basics of timer modules enough to get STM32 timers to work.