Of Explorer 16 boards and 5V LCD displays…

I read with interest today an errata for the Explorer16 demonstration board…

I know, it seems strange to think of an errata for a demonstration board, but it can happen and as in this case, there is a good lesson to learn for all of us, living the dangerous lives of the Embedded Control designers on the edge between 5V legacy technology and the new 3V generations of products.

In order to keep their options as open as possible, the Explorer16 designers arranged for a number of different LCD displays to be used alternatively on the board. Three different layouts were pre-wired and, depending on market conditions (price) and availability, one of several different models of LCD displays (from different manufacturers) will be mounted at any given point in time. Since they are all compatible (or I should say there is a common minimum denominator among all of them) there are virtually no changes required to the demos and code offered with the board.
Interestingly some of these LCD displays are 5V and some are 3V devices. Since most of the PIC24 digital I/O pins are 5V tolerant, theoretically the two technology can be alternated without consequences except for one case that was recently uncovered.

When the Lumex™ LCM-S01602DTR/M module was used (the errata document will teach you how to recognize it) things got more complicated. This 5V LCD module has internal pull-up resistors connected to the 5V rail. When the PIC24 I/Os connected to it (for example PMPA0 which is multiplexed with the AN15 analog input function) is left three stated (very high impedence) it will let 5V get inside the PIC24!

Notice that this will not necessarily damage the part (the pull ups are pretty weak after all), but it will produce a more subtle problem, it will skew the internal analog voltage references and produce a large offset on the A/D module readings for example.

Reading the errata carefully, you will realize how an essential part of the problem is the high impedence of the input pins once three stated, which produces, with the LCD internal pull ups, a partition with a very high output voltage (close to 5V).

Decreasing the impedence, by turning pins to outputs (as you do when you enable the PMP), or by adding pull down resistors (even if of relatively high values) solves the problem as the partition is modified to produce a lower voltage …

The lesson learned: Once more, make sure that when you interface to a 5V device you either:

  • use exclusively pins that are pure digital inputs (5V tolerant)
  • use open drain outputs if you want to swing a 5V signal

Watch out from all pins that are multiplexed with analog functions, even if you have the analog function disabled in your particular configuration.

The pin-out cross reference table published in the previous posting “The Missing Pinout Table” might help you double check…

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