The Internal Debug Board

The case of the Openmoko Neo 1973 and FreeRunner contains large pockets of Embedded Air. Here is a little project that puts them to good use: it integrates the principal functionality of the Openmoko Debug Board — USB access to a serial console and to JTAG — into the Neo itself.

There is also an IDBG variant for the Ben NanoNote.


git clone


The Internal Debug Board (IDBG) is designed to provide the following features: Note that not all of this has been implemented and tested so far.

Illustrated build process

The board consists of a SiLabs C8051F326 microcontroller (QFN-28, 0.5mm pitch), the micro-USB B connector, and a few discrete components (mainly 0402). The PCB itself is single-sided with 8mil traces and 5mil clearance between traces. The circuit is designed for DIY PCB production using the toner transfer method and manual soldering. KiCad sources for schematic and layout are in the repository. Postscript versions of the files can be downloaded by clicking on the images below.


IDBG comes with a sub-board that gives access to the signals needed for programming the internal Flash of the microcontroller. This sub-board is called the "IPL" board, for Initial Program Load.


On the left picture we see the IDBG board alone, on the right picture it is mounted on a Debug Board v3 (v1 and v2 are not suitable but the board could also be wired directly to the Neo). In this configuration, power can be supplied through a GPIO pin and basic communication with the microcontroller is possible, e.g., to perform a boundary scan.

For Flash programming, USB must be connected to provide additional power. A simple Flash programmer called f326 that runs on the Neo is included in the git repository. Please consult the README for further details.

After the initial programming, the IPL sub-board is cut off and the IDBG board is glued on top of the GPS shield.


Next, we make a hole for the USB receptacle in the Neo's case. The picture on the left shows the general lay of the land. Cutting the hole is a process of trial and error and requires some patience. It helps to remove only about a millimeter of material at a time and then to check the position of the connector, as shown in the middle. On the right, we see the final hole from the inside.


The result should look like my clumsy attempt on the left, but hopefully a bit more precise and with fewer scratches. The IDBG's PCB may shine through if the hole is too high. This can be hidden by painting the edge black with a permanent marker. On the right, we see what the Neo now looks like. It is important that the entire case closes properly.


With the mechanics sorted out, we now return to the electronics. A ground connection is added (this is the wire sticking out on the left in the middle image below &emdash; here is a better view of the ground connection) and thin wires are soldered to all the pads used in this configuration. Marking both ends of each wire with a "Morse code" as shown in the wiring diagram makes it easier to make the right connections.


The wires are then bundled with heat-shrink tubing and brought across the board edge to the top. (These pictures are from an earlier prototype, hence the different color of the PCB and the much larger side hole, which was made for Mini USB.)

What follows is one of the highlight of the entire operation, soldering the wires coming from IDBG to the test points on the main PCB.


If we keep the path to the FPC connector clear, it's even possible to have the internal debug board coexist with an external one.

The wires shown above are stranded 30 AWG wires with an outer diameter of 32mil or 0.8mm. This is about the thickest type of wire that can be used &emdash; anything thicker would overflow the free space under and around the board, and also the contacts on IDBG would be spaced too closely. The images below show an alternative solution: wire-wrap wires with a solid core that have an outer diameter of only about 20mil or 0.5mm.


The main disadvantage of wire-wrap wires is their rigidity and thus a higher risk of mechanical failure. The image in the middle also highlights another problem: the isolation becomes very soft and vulnerable when heated. If the wire is held down with a fingernail during soldering, the fingernail may penetrate and damage the isolation. It's better to hold the wire with something softer, e.g., the fingertip.

The last step is to close the case. There are some structures inside the top cover that conflict with the new cables and must therefore be removed. Their remnants have been marked with a yellow sheen in the picture below:

The right-hand side contains almost exactly the same structures, which are left untouched. Note that it is not necessary to trim the plastic wall next to the LCM if the wires are thin enough.

Gee, it still runs !

Ben NanoNote

The version for the Ben is a bit simpler and has no JTAG or I2C. A Ben-specific addition is the connection to the USB BOOT signal. This is what is looks like when installed:


What works: What's untested or not yet done: Known bugs: For further study:
Werner Almesberger, 30-MAR-2013