#RIOT_OS: A simple review and a periodic timer

I decided to experiment with an RTOS for my Nucleo STM32F411. I figured it was time to try out FreeRTOS for the STMCube IDE. For some reason the MX configurator kept freezing on me. I started out with cold feelings toward the IDE, started to warm to it, and now I’m cooling again.

So which SDK to use? Riot is looking good. I wanted to create some kind of timer with a variable period. I have in mind a noise generator with a variable cut-off frequency. As an experiment, I just wanted to keep it fixed for now. Here is the source code that I came up:

#include <xtimer.h>
#include <periph/gpio.h>

#if 0
#define INTERVAL 500000 // half a second
#define INTERVAL 1000000/40000 // 40kHz

gpio_t pin = GPIO_PIN(PORT_C, 13);

char blink_thread_stack[THREAD_STACKSIZE_MAIN];

void *blink_thread(void *arg)
        (void) arg;
        xtimer_ticks32_t last_wakeup = xtimer_now();

        while(1) {
                xtimer_periodic_wakeup(&last_wakeup, INTERVAL);
        return NULL;

int main(void)
        gpio_init(pin, GPIO_OUT);
        thread_create(blink_thread_stack, sizeof(blink_thread_stack),
                        blink_thread, NULL, "blink_thread");

Seems nice and simple to me. The interval is fixed, but I intend to change it.The code can be optionally compiled to have small, or big intervals. The big intervals are of 0.5s each, so you can see a blinky light. The small interval is at 40kHz (25us interval), to see what would happen if I pushed things a little. 40kHz is plenty for me.

I attached the GPIO pin to my logic analyser, and discovered that it a 50% duty cycle PWM wave of 50us. That’s 2*25us, which is when the pin toggles. So it’s a correct figure. What’s more, it’s bang on for the timing. Sweet.

I have limited knowledge of RTOSs in general, but here’s my take on my overall first impressions of Riot:

  • Projects can be compiled using simple Makefiles. This is my preferred choice. Meh, I can sorta cope with Cmake files, but I’d rather have a Makefile if at all possible. Kudos go to Libopencm3, too, which uses simple Makefiles. Compare and contrast with other stuff I’ve seen in RT-Thread, ZephyrOS, the Espressif and their ilk. They use Python and/or other configuration tools. The build infrastructure is hideously complicated. They just feel bulky, convoluted and fragile to me. The fact that a project like Riot can get away with just Makefiles suggests to me that all that complex crud just isn’t necessary.
  • No bloated Java IDE to contend with. Vim works fine.
  • I was impressed that I could get 40kHz timings no problemo. I had done a little experimentation with mbed in the past, and came away with the conclusion that it was probably too bulky and inefficient to get decent performance out of it.
  • Riot seems to keep things simple. The code I wrote is short and sweet. RT-Thread seemed similarly simple, but I was put off as to the complexity of creating a project. Zephyr seems to have a steep learning curve.
  • Riot documentation is quite sparse, I think, and could do with some cookbook examples. For example, hints on setting the stack size and priority for a thread would be helpful. People might have different concepts as to what the function of a timer is, so some explanation would be useful.
  • I read that Riot recently obtained a port for the Raspberry Pi Pico RP2040, which has me excited. What I read suggested that it was only preliminary support, but it has certainly piqued my interest.

I hope this little review was useful to you. Code for the timer is available here.

About mcturra2000

Computer programmer living in Scotland.
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