Bluetooth 5

Silicon Labs Blue Gecko Starter Kit

Silicon Labs provides a Blue Gecko Starter Kit to support Bluetooth 5 development. The Blue Gecko kit is built around the EFR32 SoC line. The starter kit is modularized to support a wide variety of radio daughter boards for easy prototyping and chip comparisons. This kit provides a "mainboard" with two radio daughter boards: EFR32BG13 and the EFR32BG1. Only the EFR32BG13 radio board supports the new Bluetooth 5 LE Coded and LE 2M PHYs.

The starter kit contains a few push buttons and a coin cell battery holder, but does not include other on-board peripherals. A wide variety of headers are supplied for your prototyping needs.

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About the EFR32 Line

Silicon Labs offers Bluetooth 5 support in the EFR32 Blue Gecko line of SoCs. Similar to the Nordic nRF52810, the EFR32 series is built upon a Cortex-M4 processor. The EFR32 line sports a whopping +19dBm of programmable output power in their beefiest configuration.

Unlike Nordic's nRF52 line, the EFR32 line has many different chip configurations. Also, not all EFR32 chips support the new 2M PHY and LE Coded PHY, so be sure to include those features in your search. Silicon Labs provides a full list of EFR32 SoCs, so you can find one that fits your needs exactly.

If you wish to evaluate other radio chips in the EFR32 line, Silicon Labs likely provides a module that interfaces with the mainboard.

Sample EFR32 Specifications using maximum values:

  • ARM Cortex-M4 Processor (up to 40MHz)
  • Up to 1MB of flash
  • Up to 256kB SRAM
  • Up to +19dBm output power
  • AES256/128 hardware accelerator
  • 12-bit ADC
  • Current DAC (4-bit)
  • Up to 4x analog comparators
  • Low-energy UART
  • Up to 4x USART (SPI, UART, I2S, IrDA)
  • Up to 2x I2C
  • Up to 65 GPIOs
  • On-chip balun

EFR32BG12P632F512FM38 Specifications (Blue Gecko Starter Kit):

  • ARM Cortex-M4 40 MHz Processor
  • 512kB Flash + 64kB SRAM
  • +10dBm output power
  • -103.3dBm receiver sensitivity
  • AES-128/256 hardware accelerator
  • 12-bit ADC
  • Current DAC (4-bit)
  • Up to 4x analog comparators
  • 4x UART Ports
  • 3x USART ports (SPI, UART, I2C)
  • 2x I2C ports
  • 31 GPIOs

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Nordic nRF52 Preview DK

Nordic has released a nRF52840 Preview Development Kit (PDK) to support their new nRF52840 chip. Unlike the Thingy:52 and nRF52 DK, the Preview DK supports the new long-range LE Coded PHY, making it fully Bluetooth 5 capable. The Preview DK also supports 802.15.4 for the Thread communication protocol.

This kit is similar to the nRF52 DK design. All I/O and interfaces are brought out ot edge connectors. The Preview DK is compatible with Arduino shields for easy prototyping options.

The Preview DK sports 4 user programmable buttons, 4 user programmable LEDs, and on-board QSPI flash for external storage. The board utilizes a PCB antenna and comes with an NFC for utilizing the onboard NFC tag support. Since the nRF52840 has an onboard USB controller, a micro-USB port is supplied for prototyping with USB accessories.

If you're interested in profiling RF performance, you can utilize the RF SMA connector to make direct RF measurements. There are also dedicated power management pins that can be utilized for power profiling.

The Preview DK is supported by the standard Nordic SDK. It is also compatible with ARM mbed.

More on the nRF52840 Preview DK:

About the nRF52840

The nRF52840 is the king of the Bluetooth 5 chips and the only chip in the product line that supports 802.15.4 and the new Bluetooth 5 LE Coded PHY. The nRF52840 provides an impressive 1MB of flash and 256kB of RAM.The chip sports additional peripherals, such as the ARM Cryptocell cryptographic co-processor and a USB 2.0 controller. With an improved output power of up to +8dBm, the nRF52840 is definitely the chip to pick if you're looking at long-range Bluetooth communications.

nRF52840 Specifications:

  • 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4F 64MHz Processor
  • 1.7v to 5.5v operation
  • 1MB flash + 256kB RAM
  • Up to +8dBm output power
  • 802.15.4 radio support (ZigBee and Thread)
  • On-chip NFC
  • PPI –Programmable Peripheral Interconnect
  • 48 x GPIO
  • 1 x QSPI
  • 4 x Master/Slave SPI
  • 2 x Two-wire interface (I²C)
  • I²S interface
  • 2 x UART
  • 4 x PWM
  • USB 2.0 controller
  • ARM TrustZone CryptoCell-310 Cryptographic and security module
  • AES 128-bit ECB/CCM/AAR hardware accelerator
  • Digital microphone interface (PDM)
  • Quadrature decoder
  • 12-bit ADC
  • Low power comparator
  • On-chip balun

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Nordic Thingy:52

The Thingy:52 development kit is a a fully-loaded sensor platform that is ready for web and app connections. Like the nRF52 DK, the Thingy:52 platform is built on the nRF52832. The nRF52832 is Bluetooth 5 ready, although it does not support the new long-range LE Coded PHY.

The Thingy:52 development kit is designed for developing demos right out of the box. The range of components provided with this dev kit is impressive and useful for many Bluetooth prototyping scenarios.

Peripherals include:

  • LEDs
  • Color/light sensor
  • Gas sensor
  • Humidity (and temperature) sensor
  • Pressure (and temperature) sensor
  • Digital microphone
  • Speaker
  • Button
  • 9-axis IMU (accelerometer, compass, gyroscope)

The kit comes fully assembled with a charged battery. Demo firmware is flashed by the factory, allowing you to test out the device immediately by using demo smartphone applications.

Nordic provides excellent documentation for the Thingy:52. Source code for the iOS, Android, and web applications are available for download. Nordic also provides an example Node.js library for working with the Thingy:52.

This is an extremely versatile prototyping platform for Bluetooth sensing applications. It's also just fun, since it comes pre-loaded with peripherals for you to play around with.

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About the nRF52832

The nRF52832 is the mid-tier Bluetooth 5 chip. The nRF52832 is built on a Cortex-M4F processor. The nRF52832 provides a significant increase in flash, RAM, and peripherals over the nRF52810. These improvements make the nRF52832 an attractive choice as a primary processor for your system or for exploring new BLE features like IPv6 support. The nRF52832 includes an on-chip NFC tag to support out-of-band pairing. You can utilize the NFC pairing method for a simpler process of exchanging authentication information between two bluetooth devices.

nRF52832 Specifications:

  • 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4F 64MHz Processor
  • 1.7v to 3.6v operation
  • 512kB flash + 64kB RAM
  • On-chip NFC tag for Out-of-Band (OOB) pairing
  • Up to +4dBm output power
  • -96dBm sensitivity, Bluetooth low energy
  • 3 x Master/Slave SPI
  • 2 x Two-wire interface (I²C)
  • 3 x PWM
  • AES HW encryption
  • 12-bit ADC
  • Real Time Counter (RTC)
  • Digital microphone interface (PDM)
  • On-chip balun

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