Category Archives: Z-Wave Slaves

Z-Wave Summit 2019

ZWaveSummit2019

If you missed the Spring Z-Wave summit in Amsterdam, you won’t want to miss the fall summit in Austin Texas this fall! The Z-Wave summit is a great place to meet other Z-Wave developers and hear about the latest technology and marketing advances Z-Wave has to offer. The summit is a three day event that is packed with valuable information and learning for both developers and marketing people. The first day is an evening networking get together, the 2nd day is mostly roadmap presentations and information about how Z-Wave is doing and where it is going. The final day splits into two tracks with developers learning about details of the Z-Wave technology and marketing folks learning how to leverage the Alliance resources and all the events coming up.

Join us October 2-4, 2019 for the Z-Wave Fall Summit 2019 in Austin. Hot topic will be the 700-series! The 3-day event features a keynote & reception on the evening of the 2nd by 2-days of informative and insightful Developer’s Forum Technical Track and a Business / Marketing Track and a member networking evening event on the 3rd. All members are invited to attend!

 Date: 10/2/2019 to 10/4/2019
When: 10/2/19 – 10/4/19
9:00am to 5:00pm
Where: W Hotel
200 Lavaca Street
Austin, Texas  78701
United States

Notes from EU Summit in May

The EU summit was right on the heels of the 700 series general release so it’s been a very busy time for everyone. The Z-Wave roadmap has major releases every 6 months and minor between them. Silicon Labs plans on a long life and improving volume shipments for Z-Wave and is investing in the technology to realize these gains. Attendance at the summit was up again with attendees from around the world.PANO_20190509_160327.vr

Certification costs recently went up but adding frequencies (countries/regions) is now just paperwork and free. The all important Certification Test Tool (CTT) was recently updated to version 2.8.4. If you are heading to certification with your new whiz-bang product you’ll want to test it with the latest version of all the scripts. The CTT is actively being improved so future releases will be even more powerful.

All 700 series Certifications must be Z-WavePlus V2. The logo remains the same but V2 raises the bar on several fronts. The main upgrade for V2 is that devices largely advertise their capabilities without the need for Hubs to write custom drivers for each and every device. Specifically, Configuration Command Class now requires the name/default/min/max values as well as some text describing the function of the parameter to be returned via a GET command.  However, 500 series are not required to support V2 but are recommend if you have the code space for it. For Hubs the bar has been raised significantly with Security S2, SmartStart and many interoperability improvements that will require some resources to achieve certification.

Expect the RF range minimums to go up from the current 40m (132′)  with the improved radio of the 700 series. The range requirement hasn’t changed yet but there are lots of discussions on the topic. Most of the devices I’ve worked on (over 3 dozen) have consistently achieved over 100m of line-of-sight RF range so I expect the minimum to probably double. This does make testing a bit more difficult as finding a location with 100m of open space can be a bit of a challenge, especially in winter!

Presentations

The presentations at the EU summit (and most of the previous ones) can be viewed from the Alliance web site. You need to be a member to gain access to them. My presentation (along with Axel Brugger) was a deep dive on using the 700 series and getting familiar with Simplicity Studio for developing end devices. Hans Kroner gave a similar presentation on developing gateways using ZIPGW/ZWare. While you can view the presentation online I highly recommend attending in person so you can ask questions and get straight answers right there on the spot.

Fun and Games

The members night was at The Beach which is an indoor beach games facility with lots of crazy stuff. Great food, Great music, Great games made for an enjoyable evening after a long day of stuffing information in your brain!

IMG_20190509_175126

 

Zniffer File HowTo

Z-Wave developers have a handy tool for debugging firmware and Z-Wave network issues called the Zniffer. The Zniffer consists of two parts, the first is a USB dongle with special firmware and the second is the Windows program. You can’t buy just a Zniffer USB dongle (they come as part of some of the developers kits) but you can make one out of a standard UZB. You can even make a SuperZniffer as described in my previous blog posting. The Zniffer program is included in the Simplicity Studio IDE tools for developing Z-Wave products.

Zniffer traces are INVALUABLE when submiting a support case to the Silicon Labs Z-Wave support web site. I am an Field Applications Engineer so I often review Zniffer traces captured by developers who have questions or are reporting bugs. The problem is that many times I get a support case that says “Zniffer trace attached – what is problem?” and the Zniffer trace is several hundred megabytes with dozens of Z-Wave networks and maybe one hundred Z-Wave nodes captured across days of time. Talk about the proverbial needle in a haystack! So I am asking everyone to follow a few rules BEFORE attaching a Zniffer trace to a support case.

Zniffer File Rules

Before attaching a Zniffer file for Z-Wave support to review, include the following:

  1. The HomeID of the network with the problem
  2. The NodeID of the Z-Wave node that demonstrates the problem
  3. The line number or the date/time of the where the problem occurred (or a range)
  4. The Security Keys of the Z-Wave network
  5. A clear and concise description of the problem, what should have happened, what didn’t happen, what you believe is wrong

ZnifferHowTo1

HomeID

The HomeID of a Z-Wave network is a 4 byte, eight digit hexadecimal number that uniquely identifies a single Z-Wave network. Only devices with the same HomeID can talk to each other. In a development environment there are often dozens or even hundreds of Z-Wave networks in range. Remember the Zniffer captures every network in the air. Please do not filter the HomeID when saving out the Zniffer file as there may be critical interactions with other network or even noise that will be filtered out if you save only the matching HomeID. We can always filter by HomeID when displaying the network on our PC but we can’t see the data if its not in the file.

NodeID

The NodeID of the node that is displaying the issue has to be identified. You might have dozens of nodes in the network who are all talking at once so we need to know which one is the one with the problem. Please include details of the device as well such as what type it is (binary switch, thermostat, sensor, battery powered, etc) . Ideally if you can include the device within the zniffer file that will tell us just about everything we need to know as the NIF will be exchanged and the interview will take place.

Date/Time

Each transaction in the Zniffer trace is identified by a line number on the left side or the date/time. Indicating the line number or date/time or a range of these will help us navigate the potentially huge Zniffer file and quickly zoom in on the problem. Wading thru days of Zniffer data to finally find the interesting bit is just wasting our time and yours.

Security Keys

If you are working with Secure devices you MUST include the security keys. Without the security keys the data is encrypted and it is all just meaningless ones and zeroes and we can’t help you. Now that all devices are required to be secure, the key file is critical. The Zniffer trace has to include the SPAN table update as without the SPAN table we again cannot decrypt the message. The easiest way to be sure the SPAN is included is to add the device-under-test (DUT) to the network while capturing the Zniffer trace. The other option is to power cycle the DUT which will usually cause the DUT and the controller to exchange Nonces to resynchronize the SPAN table and we can once again decrypt the messages in the Zniffer.

To extract the security keys, join the PC Controller to the Z-Wave network. Be sure to enable all levels of security by providing the S2 DSK of the PC Controller. Once joined to the network, the keys can be saved to a file using the procedure below:

ZnifferHowTo2

The filename is the HomeID.txt which in the case above is FFE5B5C9.txt and contains:

9F;C592557B5F99DDC9BDD12D0D926BAFE5;1
9F;31944FE8F8DE2330E79741313A949190;1
9F;18FD847446AFD7E410B2BCF8912BC632;1
98;C65D55C44FB2156635CA07A48D362AD3;1

To decyrpt the messages in the Zniffer, just click on Load Keys and enter the directory for the file. Then all the messages are decrypted and we can help you solve your problem.

Pilgrimage to the Z-Wave Homeland

I finally made the trip to the home of Z-Wave, Copenhagen Denmark. Z-Wave began as Zensyszensys-logo back in 2001. My journey with Z-Wave began shortly after that in 2003 when I was disgusted with my highly unreliable X10 home automation experiments. I just couldn’t get that X10 junk to work! It was cheap, but it wasn’t worth my time and frustration so I was looking around for other technologies that would be reliable. I experimented with several custom baked wireless solutions but quickly realized that wireless is really hard and complicated. Z-Wave caught my eye because it was a real mesh network and actually worked. From there I have continued to be impressed by the technology improvements always with full backward compatibility and wide choice of fully interoperable products from many manufacturers.

My purpose is to meet the engineering team and to learn in much greater depth the details of Z-Wave and especially the new 700 series. We have an intense group of smart engineers working diligently on the many aspects of a wireless system as complex as Z-Wave. One team is busy with the gateway specific parts of the protocol and the Z/IP Gateway and Z-Ware code. Another team is working on the protocol and solving very complex issues that we find are happening in the real world. The support team (of which I am part) helps customers get their products to market quickly by answer their questions and providing training. And of course there are the marking and sales folks who make sure you all know about the benefits of Z-Wave.

ZWaveCPHThe Z-Wave team in Copenhagen resides in this modest building. Danes love to bicycle to work or take the excellent train/bus system. Only a few travel via car unlike those of us in the US who just love sitting in traffic for hours. The food in Copenhagen is wonderful with plenty of international choices as well as the Danish favorites. My hotel room is more of a spaceship pod than a boring room with the Danish penchant for efficient minimalism. The view of the windmills in the distance and the quaint classic European architecture are beautiful.

Z-Wave EU Summit

The other purpose of my visit across the pond is to attend and speak at the Z-Wave EU Summit. If you are a Z-Wave developer, I highly recommend attending as you’ll learn about the latest Z-Wave technology and best practices to build robust IoT products. We have two technical tracks in addition to the marketing track. Meeting with your fellow Z-Wave developers to share your experiences and learn from theirs is the main value of the summit. The only way to get that experience is to attend in person. See my other postings about last years EU summit and the US summits to get a feel of what goes on.

The summit is next week in Amsterdam. Click HERE for more details on the summit.

z-wave_spring_summit_19

 

 

Z-Wave Watchdog Timer Best Practices

WatchDogVirtually all embedded systems must run 24 x 7 x 365 x many many years without ever being rebooted. Since there is no one there to “press the reset button” if the device fails, the watchdog timer is there to do just that. The 500 series Z-Wave chips from Silicon Labs have a watchdog timer and the example code provides a very minimal use of the watchdog timer. However, the minimal use in the example code is not sufficient to provide a robust watchdog for embedded Z-Wave devices. This post explains some rules and methods to code a robust watchdog timer.

Long time embedded expert Jack Ganssle has a great article on Watchdog timers. He describes the use of a watchdog timer on the Clementine spacecraft where a fault in the system caused the spacecraft to dump virtually of its fuel resulting in the loss of the mission. The lead software engineer had wanted a watchdog but the designers decided not to include it. Jacks example shows how important it is to spend at least some time coding a robust watchdog for our IoT devices. While our devices aren’t controlling multi-million dollar spacecraft, we are coding light switches that are hardwired into the wall and cannot be easily rebooted. Try telling the customer to go into the basement and toggle the power to his entire house to reboot the light switches!

What is a Watchdog?

A watchdog timer is a timer that runs constantly. Typically a complex combination of events resets (or “kicks”) the watchdog timer every now and then, usually every few milliseconds. If the combination of events ever gets stuck, the timer will continue to run. If the watchdog timer “times out”, the system is reset – basically the reset button is pushed! Your embedded system reboots and keeps on running. Generally no one even realizes it has rebooted (I’ll discuss that problem in more detail shortly).

WatchdogTimerThis diagram shows the Watchdog timers value which is constantly counting up. Every time the Watchdog is “kicked”, the counter is reset to zero. Somewhere in your code the ZW_WatchDogKick() routine is called which resets the watchdog timer. Sometimes this reset condition happens on a nice regular basis, sometimes it happens at varying times as shown by the level of the timer. The key is the timeout threshold has to be longer than any normal operating condition. If a fault condition occurs, the timer keeps on counting up until the threshold is reached and then the system is reset. When the watchdog timer fires, the Z-Wave chip goes thru a full reset just as if power had been removed and reapplied. Your embedded system is back up and running as if nothing had happened.

SiLabs Sample Code = Minimal Watchdog

The SiLabs sample code has the following implementation of the watchdog:

BYTE ApplicationInitSW(ZW_NVM_STATUS nvmStatus) {
...
#ifdef WATCHDOG_ENABLED
 ZW_WatchDogEnable();
#endif
} 

void ApplicationPoll(void){
#ifdef WATCHDOG_ENABLED
 ZW_WatchDogKick();
#endif
}

The sample code has the good implementation practice of putting the Watchdog code inside #defines so it can be easily enabled/disabled. Unfortunately it blindly kicks the dog every ApplicationPoll without checking any other conditions. ApplicationPoll is called roughly every few hundred microseconds and a lot of fault conditions can exist and ApplicationPoll will still be called. With this implementation the only way the watchdog is going to fire is if there is a catastrophic failure and ApplicationPoll is no longer being called. While this implementation is better than nothing, it won’t reset the system in many cases where the device has become unresponsive. This is where you come in, you have to add more code to the watchdog algorithm. It may be easy to just use what SiLabs provides, but for a robust product you really need to spend some time adding your own conditions to the watchdog algorithm.

A Better Watch Dog Example

Writing good watchdog code requires some significant thought and testing. The possible sources of failure need to be discussed with members of the team and with other Z-Wave developers who are fighting the same fight (thus the need for this blog). I can provide a few guidelines to include in your analysis but this is not a complete solution. Only you know all the possible failure modes of your product and that requires some serious thought and analysis.

Mutex Gets Stuck

The most common failure I have seen is the fact that the SiLabs provided Application Framework (AF) mutex can get stuck. When the mutex is stuck, it most often results in the device still able to receive Z-Wave traffic but often can’t respond. If the device is power cycled, then it returns to full operation. So often this failure goes unnoticed both in testing and in actual use.

What is the mutex you ask? The mutex is a simple flag in the AF that prevents the code from overwriting the Send Buffer while a message is currently being sent over the radio. When a GET command comes in, the AF will call a command class handler to handle the GET and build a REPORT frame in memory. When ready to send the frame, the AF will call pTxBuf=GetResponseBuffer() to get a buffer for the radio to send. There is only one buffer so if the buffer is already in use, you get a NULL pointer back and will have to wait and send the frame later.  This in general works fine as long as frames don’t come in too fast. But in a large network with lots of repeated and re-routed frames you will occasionally get a bunch of GETs quickly and it is possible for the REPORTs to get cross wired and end up locking up the mutex for a frame that will never be sent. If the code then doesn’t properly release the buffer, the mutex is stuck. The Application Framework code is known to lock the mutex occasionally so you must code around this problem. The easiest solution to this rare event is to ensure the watchdog is watching the mutex and simply reboot if it gets stuck for too long.

My solution is to have a counter that counts up once per second in ApplicationPoll anytime ActiveJobs() is true (in SDK 6.81.xx its now called ZAF_mutex_isActive()). ActiveJobs is true anytime a buffer is in use and false when all the buffers are free. There are actually two buffers, one for response frames (REPORTs sent as a result of a GET) and a second buffer for request frames (unsolicited notifications).

Application Specific Reasons

Beyond the mutex you must think long and hard about application specific failure conditions. The most obvious is that the device has not received or sent a frame in 25 hours. Most hubs will poll a device at least a couple of times per day to make sure it is still alive. So if there has been no traffic in a day, maybe something is stuck and a reboot is in order. Plus if nothing has happened in a day then probably no one will notice the reboot (which only takes 1.5 seconds). You do have to be careful that some other part of the application isn’t impacted as a result of the reboot. For example, if you are a light switch and by default you turn the light off on a reboot, then people will be really annoyed if the light randomly turns off because your hub hasn’t polled it in day. There are lots of potential checks you can make here but every application will have different requirements so you will have to think hard about all the possible conditions for your specific case.

Sample good watchdog:

E_APPLICATION_STATE ApplicationPoll( E_PROTOCOL_STATE bProtocolState ) {
...
if (ActiveJobs()) {              // Mutex buffer is busy
    if (OneSecondTimer) ActiveJobsCounter++;  // Once/sec increment
} else {
    ActiveJobsCounter=0;         // When buffer is free clear counter
}
...
if ((ActiveJobsCounter<30) &&       // Mutex isn't stuck 
    (LastCommsHours<25) &&          // Got a frame in the last 24 hrs
    ApplicationSpecificReasons) {   // Other reasons
    ZW_WatchDogKick();              // Everything is OK so reset WDOG
}

In the example code above we do have a major issue in that if the counters stop counting for some reason, the watchdog will never fire! But that’s easy to check for in ApplicationPoll and if ApplicationPoll itself isn’t running then the WatchDog is no longer being kicked so it will reset.

Doesn’t Work If Not Tested

The old coding adage (proven totally true by me many many times) goes “If the code hasn’t been tested, it doesn’t work”. Same thing applies to your Watchdog code. So how do you test the watchdog? The first thing to do is to log the number of times the watchdog has triggered. This has to be stored in NVM since RAM will be lost when you reboot. Fortunately ApplicationInitHW is called with the bWakeupReason parameter which lets you know the watchdog fired when equal to ZW_WAKEUP_WATCHDOG. Note that usually ApplicationInitHW just stores the bWakeupReason and later in ApplicationInitSW we check it as the NVM isn’t available in InitHW.

ApplicationInitSW(...) {
...
if (wakeupReason==ZW_WAKEUP_WATCHDOG) { // Increment WDOG counter with max 255
    i=MemoryGetByte((WORD)&EEOFFSET_NumberWatchDogResets_far);
    if (i<255) MemoryPutByte((WORD)&EEOFFSET_NumberWatchDogResets_far, i+1);
}

Use a Configuration Command Class parameter to read or update this value for testing purposes. I also like to put in a small block of code wrapped in #ifdef WATCHDOG_TESTING_ENABLED that upon receiving a BASIC_SET with a value of 0xDE (not a valid value) calls GetResponseBuffer() which locks up the mutex and in 30 seconds the chip should reboot. If not, then you have a bug in the watchdog code! You can test all the branches in your watchdog code with various values of a BASIC_SET.

When to Enable Watchdog

Perhaps a better question is when NOT to enable the watchdog since ALL production builds absolutely must have the watchdog enabled! My recommendation is to disable the watchdog during development. You want the chip to lock up if you have a bug. The watchdog is really good at masking major bugs since things just keep on working. If the device locks up, then you know something is wrong and you need to chase it down. If you power cycle and the device is fine again, IT IS NOT FINE! You have a bug in your code! During production testing I usually turn the watchdog back on but I also have the testing scripts check the watchdog counter and if it increments then the test fails.

Watchdog Best Practices for Z-Wave Developers

  1. Disable Watchdog during development using #defines
  2. Only kick the watchdog when everything is idle
    1. Kicking every ApplicationPoll is INSUFFICIENT
    2. Check the ActiveJobs() being stuck (aka Mutex)
    3. Check other conditions within your product
  3. Check that the RF has received something every X minutes or hours
  4. Have a way to test the Watchdog during development
  5. Store the number of Watchdog resets in NVM and retrieve them via a configuration parameter

 

Z-Wave 700 Series Announcement

The long awaited 32-bit ARM based Z-Wave transceiver chip has finally been officially announced. The 700 series announcement is on the home page of the Silicon Labs web site so this is a big deal for SiLabs and Z-Wave. The companies joined forces just eight months ago and we already have a major advance in Z-Wave technology.

Z-Wave 700 Press Image

What’s New?

The 700 series is a major improvement to Z-Wave for both consumers and developers. For consumers, the lower power and longer radio range means more reliable communication and longer battery life. For developers the main advantage is we’ve finally moved beyond the 1980s 8051 8-bit CPU with very limited debug capability into a modern 32-bit ARM CPU with full serial wire debugging capabilities. We can FINALLY single step thru code instead of having to use PRINTF!

700 Series Features:

  • Longer RF range
    • 150% in the US and 200% in the EU due to improved RF sensitivity and increased transmit power in the EU
  • Lower Power = Longer Battery Life
    • Improved semiconductor technology and a faster CPU yields significant battery life improvement and 10 year coin cell operation
  • Lower Cost – Worldwide Support
    • Improved RF blocking means the country specific SAW filter is not needed saving cost and making a single SKU for worldwide operation
    • No external serial memory is required and OTA firmware update is now mandatory
  • Easier Product Development
    • Integrated Debug Environment (IDE) with full ARM debug, single step, trace, and energy profiler speeds product development
  • 100% Interoperable and Backwards Compatible
    • The 700 series is fully interoperable with all mesh-networked Z-Wave devices all the way back to the pre-100 series Z-Wave devices

When Can I Get One?

If you already signed up for a free Beta devkit, then one should be on its way in the next few weeks. Devkits have begun shipping but quantities are limited and will take until the end of January before all the Beta samples are shipped. The Beta signup closed back on October 1st so if you missed the deadline you’ll have to wait until later in Q1 to request one from your Silicon Labs salesperson. The official “general availability” (GA) release is the end of Q1 at which time the datasheets, chips, devkits and software will be released at the 7.xx full release version. Datasheets require an NDA until the GA release.

You can get started today using the Simplicity Studio IDE and begin developing code and explore the SDK. The software is free and can be downloaded from here.

My Initial Thoughts

I’ve had a 700 series Beta DevKit for a few weeks now working with our Alpha release partners to get some early feedback. We’ve had some hiccups and the firmware needs more work but the silicon is solid. I have joined my 700 series devkit to my home and it communicates fine with my very early pre-100 series Z-Wave light switches attesting to the ongoing commitment Z-Wave has to be fully interoperable and backwards compatible.

Z-Wave Summit Fall 2018 Philadelphia

The Z-Wave Summit is usually held only once each year in the USA and it is not to be missed. I’ll give a brief overview of what was discussed at the summit in the short post below. But if you didn’t attend in person, you missed the most valuable aspect of the summit which is the chance to meet and talk to other Z-Wave developers. This year the summit was hosted by Bulogics in the city of brotherly love,  Philadelphia PA. Bulogics is a Z-Wave certification house so they know everything about Z-Wave and how to have a good time!

2018ZWaveSummitMitch.jpg

Summit Notes

The 700 series was officially “revealed” at the summit with many presentations talking about the new ARM based Z-Wave transceiver. The summit has over 140 attendees from 70 companies not including all the Silicon Labs and Alliance employees. This is the largest attendance of a summit to date and reflects the rapidly growing world of Z-Wave.

Matt Johnson, IoT Sr. VP, described the roadmap for multiprotocol chips which include Z-Wave, zigbee, BLE and Wifi as well as proprietary protocols. For the immediate term though the focus is on getting the 700 series shipping. The real key for Z-Wave is the interoperability and certification ensuring every Z-Wave device can communicate with every other device.

Z-Wave product manager Johan Pedersen presented the important improvements in the 700 series over the 500 series:

  • ARM M4 32-bit CPU
  • 150% RF range improvement in the US and more in EU/Asia
  • Lower power and faster wakeup time making coin cell operation a reality
  • Lower cost due to elimination of the external NVM & SAW
  • Single HW build for all regions due to elimination of the SAW filter
  • Longer battery life with 1.8-3.6V operation
  • Serial debugging

By far my main interest as a developer is that we finally have a real CPU with an M4 and serial debugging so I can finally single step my code and figure out where I went wrong!

The next natural question of course is when will the 700 series be a reality? The answer is “soon”. Ugh. Developers kits are supposed to be available soon and the parts will be shipping in early 2019.

Technical Track

On the second day of the summit the groups are split between marketing and technical geeks like me. More presentations on things like the new Z-Wave Plus V2 requirements which will go into effect with the 700 series release. The V2 requirements significantly ups the bar for support for various command classes with the goal of making Z-Wave devices to fully inform the hub of their capabilities. There should be little or no custom coding to support most V2 devices – the device will tell you everything it can do.

The presentation by Alex Capecelatro, founder of Josh.ai, described the future of voice control which sounds amazing. Alex described just how hard voice control really is and has a long way to go before it really works the way we all want it to. I liked his quote from the New York Times: “We overestimate what technology can do in 3 years but underestimate what can be done in 10 years”. Z-Wave has come a long way in the dozen years it’s been around.

Configuration Command Class

2018summitERI gave a presentation on Configuration Command Class Version 4 and all the wonderful things it can do. The most notable point is that 2/3rds of the Z-Wave Plus certified devices have at least one Configuration Parameter. Yet many hubs have no way of modifying or displaying to the user the current value of parameters. Z-Wave Plus V2 mandates support for Configuration Command Class V4 for both hubs and devices so you need to get busy! My presentation title is: “The Chicken vs Egg is over: Moving Your Product to Configuration Version 4” which can be downloaded from this link: Z-WaveAlliance2018EricRyherd.

Interoperables Band

Once again the band The Interoperables played at the evening get together at a local brewery. These guys are really good for having only practiced a couple of times!

2018ZWaveSummitInteroperables

DrZWave joins Silicon Labs

That’s right, I have officially joined Silicon Labs as an FAE covering the Eastern US. I can be contacted at drzwave@Silabs.com.

 

 

 

 

8051 8-bit CPU Coding Tricks & Tips

The death of the 8-bit CPU has been prognosticated for over a decade but these old tiny workhorses keep going and going and going. Z-Wave is currently based on the venerable Intel 8051 CPU but we’re about to get an upgrade to a 32-bit ARM CPU via the 700 series which is due out later this year. In this posting I’ll give a few tips on coding in C for the 8051 to typically improve speed of execution.

I’ve been writing code for 8-bit CPUs since the 1980s and I designed a few in the 1990s. I also designed a couple of 32-bit RISC CPUs in the 1990s and early 2000s. I often had to squeeze the code just a little harder to get an operation to happen just fast enough to meet a system requirement. This meant that I either had to code in assembly or often just coding C in a slightly different way would convince the compiler to generate the most optimal assembly code for me.

8-bit CPU Architecture

I could go thru a long discussion of the block diagram of the 8051 CPU but instead I’ll just cut to the  chase – the 8051 is not at all “C friendly”. The 8051 was architected back in the bad ol’ days of assembly programming – especially for embedded systems where resources were in very short supply (think 1K ROM and 64 bytes of RAM). Thus the architecture has all sorts of funny things that a C compiler can’t take advantage of efficiently. The PSR flags, the D pointer, the single accumulator, memory mapped registers and the SFR registers are all parts of the 8051 that make it special but unfortunately are just not efficient in C. The folks at Keil have worked really hard to make their compiler as efficient as possible and to make access to these non-C hardware resources available without too much effort. But at the end of the day, a C compiler really wants a nice simple block of 32-bit registers to perform integer arithmetic on and a simple flat memory – in other words, a RISC CPU.

In the Z-Wave world, the 8051 in the 500 series chips is a 32 MHz 8051 with 128K bytes of FLASH and 16K bytes of RAM. “But wait” you say, “the 8051 is an 8-bit CPU with a 16-bit Program Counter, how can it address 128K bytes?”. The answer is Bank Switching which is just plain crazy but I won’t get onto that soapbox in this posting. The Z-Wave code from Silicon Labs is delivered as pre-compiled C libraries that the application developer links into their code. The application code is written in C and the Keil compiler does a fine job of squeezing a reasonable amount of code into the tiny 8051. Fortunately in IoT, the task to be performed is usually pretty simple – turn a light on or off by activating a relay connected to a GPIO so we don’t need a multi-Gigahertz CPU with gobs of RAM.

The Silicon Labs SDK comes with a number of sample applications and a bunch of “helper” routines all written in C. Thus, a Z-Wave application can generally be written completely in C, compiled using the Keil compiler and it’ll generally squeeze into the limited code space as long as you don’t try to do too much on this little CPU. But it seems there are always some little things that I just need to do a little faster. The following tips are just a few of the simple tricks I’ve learned from decades of embedded coding.

The Fastest 8051 Loop

What is the fastest 8051 loop you can execute in C?

The most common loop is a simple FOR loop:

for (iter=0;iter<16;iter++) {
...
}

Which is easy to read and does the job just fine – if we don’t need to do it very fast. Often the innermost loop is executed a lot and squeezing just a few instructions out of the code will significantly improve the performance of the routine.

The for loop above compiles into the following assembly code:

B02:0xA04D E4 CLR A
B02:0xA04E FF MOV R7,A
B02:0xA04F 0F INC R7                    ; TOP OF LOOP
B02:0xA050 EF MOV A,R7
B02:0xA051 B410FB CJNE A,#demodState(0x10),B02:A04F

Which as you can see is quite a few instructions and even longer when you consider that each instruction is at least 4 CPU clocks. The Compare and Jump if Not Equal (CJNE) is a 3 byte instruction which requires many clock cycles to execute. If we can squeeze a few instructions out of the loop then it will run much faster. Obviously we could code in assembly but this exercise is to show that HOW you code in C can make a big difference in the performance. An alternative coding of the for loop above is:

iter=16;
do {
...
} while (--iter);

With this slight change in the coding style the while loop turns into a single byte DJNZ opcode as shown below so this is the fastest and most efficient looping structure when targeting the 8051.

B02:0xA055 7F10 MOV R7,#demodState(0x10)
B02:0xA057 DFFE DJNZ R7,B02:A057         ; single instruction loop

The real trick to improving the performance of your code is to see what assembly instructions the code compiles into.

How to See What Your C Code Turns Into

You can’t improve the performance of your code unless you can measure what the performance is and where all the time is being spent. A classic method of measuring the performance is to set a GPIO pin high or low during specific routines. Then use an oscilloscope to observe how long the routine takes. Other options involve printing out markers out a UART or using a hardware timer to measure the duration of a routine.

KeilDebug1A simple method to observe the instructions our C code generates for our little 8051 CPU is to use the simulator built into the Keil C compiler. By default the Keil IDE does not have a simulator when using the Silicon Labs sample projects so you have to assign one. Right click on the project then select “options” then click on the “Debug” tab. Then enter “s8051” into the CPU DLL box as shown here. You can now click on Debug->Start/Stop Debug Session or press <CTL>F5. This will enter the Keil Simulator for the 8051. One thing to understand is that this simulator does NOT understand the bank switching of the Silicon Labs version of the 8051 used in the 500 series. Unfortunately you can’t debug code much using this simulator as any bank switching doesn’t work. But it will work well enough to debug small snippets of code and of course to see what you code turns into.

KeilDebug2Once the debugger opens in the IDE, click on the line of code you are interested in and the Disassembly window (use View->Disassembly if its not visible) will take you right to the line of code you are interested in as shown here. Note that the C source code is mixed in as comments in the assembly code. This helps guide you to match the C code to the assembly code which can be a little convoluted depending on the optimization the compiler has applied. You can see here that the Do-While has turned into our desired DJNZ single instruction loop.

Don’t rely strictly on the instruction count to guide your C coding style. One slow-down I often see in the Silicon Labs code is they call a subroutine, that calls a subroutine, that calls (several more) subroutines which finally just returns a value. While this may be structured C coding it is very slow in an 8051. Each subroutine call pushes and pops a number of registers and parameters on the stack and each of those takes several clock cycles to perform. Ideally a C macro is used to specify a value or a register which becomes just a single instruction fetch of the value from a register or memory instead of all this pushing and popping.

Unrolling Loops

Another easy speedup in C is to unroll short loops. A classic situation for unrolling loops is when emulating a serial protocol like I2C with a GPIO. Since the loop is typically only 8 passes you can often significantly improve performance by unrolling the loop – often taking the I2C bit rate from under 10Kbps to nearly 100Kbps.

for (bitnum=0x80; bitnum!=0;bitnum>>1) {
    I2C_SEND_BIT(data & bitnum);  // macro to set SDA then toggle SCL
}

When unrolled turns into:

    I2C_SEND_BIT(data & 0x80);
    I2C_SEND_BIT(data & 0x40);
    I2C_SEND_BIT(data & 0x20);
    I2C_SEND_BIT(data & 0x10);
    I2C_SEND_BIT(data & 0x08);
    I2C_SEND_BIT(data & 0x04);
    I2C_SEND_BIT(data & 0x02);
    I2C_SEND_BIT(data & 0x01);

Which works well for short fixed length loops but obviously won’t work in every case. The slow down with the FOR loop involves reloading the accumulator and the D pointer with various constants and the iteration value. The inline version doesn’t have any of these nor are there any delays from looping. This technique also works well on 32-bit RISC processors.

Conclusion

There are a lot more tricks when coding for small 8-bit CPUs. But I’m hoping I won’t have to bother with them for much longer and the dominance of the 32-bit CPU will finally crush the 8-bit out of existence. The price of silicon continues to drop and 32-bit CPUs are often as cheap or even cheaper than these ancient 8-bit boat anchors. The modern CPUs also come with advanced debuggers unlike the 8051 which has… wait for it… printf or worse yet simply toggling an IO. Ugh.