Tiny Headers for Reliable Debug

Here we go again… Once again I’ve been given yet another board with randomly placed test points instead of a nice neat, reliable header to connect via my MiniSimplicity cable. So I’m spending an hour on my microscope soldering thin little wires to the tiny little test points to be able to flash and then debug the firmware on a new ZG23 based product. Once I’m done soldering, I’m left with a very fragile board which is unreliable at best and at worst will result in even less hair on my thinning head. My post from 2019 described using a zero cost header for a reliable connection, but it seems not everyone is reading my blog!

On the flip side, a different customer sent me their board with a Tag-Connect Edge-Connect that I had not seen before but is absolutely brilliant. The Edge-Connect uses the EDGE of your PCB for the test points. Barely 1mm wide and about 20mm long it is possible to include this debug connector on virtually any PCB. There is a locking pin to hold the cable secure while the spring loaded tabs press into the castellated notches to ensure solid contact.

Close up of the locking pin and castellated notches

There are several sizes of the Edge-Connect but the recommended one is the 10-pin EC10-IDC-050 which matches the MiniSimplicity header on the WSTK DevKit board. Note that the the 6pin cable in the photo above is NOT the one I would recommend but it was the only one in stock at the time and it worked fine for debugging but doesn’t have the UART or PTI pins.

Tag-Connect has many other types of debug headers/cables of various configurations to hold the cable to the PCB securely. The original Tag-Connect cables have plastic clips that snap into fairly large thru-holes in your PCB. While this is a reliable connection, the thru-holes eat up a lot of PCB real estate. The next evolution was to use a small retaining clip under the PCB that grips onto the metal alignment pins. The photo below shows the PCB pads are not much bigger than an 0805 footprint and only requires three small thru-holes.

Note the smallest header is about the same as an 0805 in lower left corner

The lowest cost approach is to simply add a 10-pin header footprint on your PCB that matches the pinout of the MiniSimplicity header. See section 5.1.1 of Application Node AN958 for the pinout of the 10-pin MiniSimplicity header. You don’t need to solder the header onto the PCB except when debugging. Thus the header can be under a battery or some relatively inaccessible location as when you are debugging in the lab the PCB is usually not installed in the product enclosure.

Please use ANY of these standard connectors on your next project. Without a solid connection between your computer and the chip you will find yourself chasing ghosts and losing hair.

Z-Wave 800 Series – Soc or Module?

The new Z-Wave 800 Series silicon is now shipping in volume and fully supported by the Silicon Labs tools so it’s time to get to work designing new products! In this post I’ll describe the main advantages and the difference between the chip version (SoC) and the module. But first I want to invite everyone to watch the Tech Talk on using the new 800 series developers kit: ZWAVE-PK800A.

I am presenting the new Z-Wave Developers Kit – ZWAVE-PK800A in a webinar on 22 March 2022. The webinar is recorded so if you missed it, you can still view it anytime, just click the image.

Unlike the 700 series, either the SiP module or the SoC can be used for either controllers or end devices. In the 700 series the EFR32ZG14 SoC is only usable on gateways and only runs the SerialAPI. The ZGM130 module is used for all end devices and can be used on gateways. Thus, the 800 series gives you more choices for which chip/module to use that best matches your product needs.

What’s the difference between 800 series Module vs. SoC?

  • Here’s the short list of differences:
    • ZGM230S SiP Module – easier to use
      • Integrated crystal, RF match, decoupling
      • Factory calibrated CTUNE
      • 34 GPIO – 44 pin SiP 6.5×6.5mm
      • +14dBm Max RF Transmit power (lower battery current targeting End Devices)
      • More expensive unit cost but just add antenna and a few passives
    • EFR32ZG23 SoC – lower cost, longer RF range
      • External crystal, RF match/filter, decoupling
      • CTUNE Calibration required per unit (see UG522)
      • 23/31 GPIO – 40/48 QFN 5×5/6x6mm (48 pin compatible with a future larger flash/ram device)
      • +14dBm or +20dBm Z-Wave Long Range RF Tx power
        • Line powered devices should use +20 for additional RF Range
      • Lower unit cost but more companion parts, antenna and crystal calibration required
    • Both require an external antenna and require regulatory (FCC/CE) testing

ZGM230S Module

The ZGM230S System-in-Package (SiP) Module is a superset of the EFR32ZG23 System-on-Chip (SoC). The module adds a handful of inductors and capacitors for the DC-to-DC regulator and RF matching and the 39MHz crystal which is pre-calibrated at the Silicon Labs factory. The module is easier to manufacture (fewer components and no calibration) but is limited to +14dBm transmit power in Z-Wave Long Range. Modules are more expensive due to the integration but the cost crossover is at pretty high volumes.

ZGM230S SiP Module contains the ZG23 SoC chip, a calibrated crystal and a few passive components

ZG23 SoC

The ZG23 SoC is the chip inside the module. The main advantage of using the SoC is that at high volumes, it is cheaper. The SoC supports +20dBm Z-Wave Long Range transmit power which can nearly double the radio range over the module. But +20dBm demands a lot of battery power so it typically cannot be powered with coin cells but must use a CR123A or AA batteries. Getting FCC to pass at +20dBm can also be a challenge and careful matching of the antenna is required. On the factory test floor, every unit manufactured must have the 39MHz crystal calibrated. Details of the calibration process are described in User Guide 522. The crystal calibration is necessary to ensure reliable radio communication and is a process that requires a spectrum analyzer and several seconds of testing. Your manufacturing partner has to be equipped and knowledgeable to properly calibrate each unit efficiently.

500 vs. 700 vs. 800 Series Comparison

Are you still working with the Z-Wave 500 series and need more details on which series to upgrade to? Fortunately we’ve put together this comparison table to answer those questions. I have to say that once you’ve written and debugged code for a modern ARM processor, you will NEVER want to use the 500 series 8051 8-bit CPU ever again!

Which Z-Wave Series to use?

In these times of long lead times and limited silicon availability, the main question of which Z-Wave chip/module to use may come down to which ones you can get! Silicon Labs keeps some inventory of all of our chips available thru our distributors Digikey, Mouser and Arrow. Each day a few hundred chips of all types are placed into inventory so anyone can buy enough to build prototypes. If there are zero available today, try again tomorrow or the next day. At this time (end of Q1 2022), we are able to supply the 500 series pretty well but the supply outlook for 2023 is uncertain. The 700 series has limited availability so if you already have orders placed and have been given allocation, you are OK. The 800 series is our most advanced process which Silicon Labs and our fabrication partners are investing in upgrading capacity so availability will improve late in 2022 and into 2023. Any new product development or upgrading of 500 series products should use the 800 series. This outlook changes literally daily so contact your Silicon Labs sales person for the latest recommendation.

Conclusion

The choice of 800 series is easy – do it! The improvements and availability over the 500 and 700 series makes using the 800 series a no-brainer. So the next question is Module or SoC? That decision has to be done on a case-by-case basis as there are a lot of factors to be weighed. The first hurdle is the total unit volume you expect to purchase. If you’re not in the 100,000+ per year stage, then the recommendation is to use the module as it is simply easier to manufacture. The crystal calibration requirement for the SoC is non-trivial and demands expertise and equipment to do it properly. If your target market is not the US, then the module is also the way to go as the additional RF power isn’t available except in the US region as Z-Wave Long Range is only available in North America. I recommend you contact your local FAE to discuss your needs and we’ll help guide to the appropriate solution that balances cost vs. complexity.