Target audience: experienced developers with little knowledge in embedded development and electronic. Check “Rust, Arduino and Embedded Development as a Beginner: Part 1” for a more beginner friendly article.


After my experience with the AVR microchip family (the same you use on Arduino boards) I decided to try out Rust on a RISC-V based board. I don’t work in embedded development but most of the professional projects I saw were using either AVR or ARM-based architectures. As I understand the reason for that is because they are kinda industry standards and you can find PCB assemblers who provide AVR and ARM chips more easily. RISC-V on the other hand is relatively new (2010 according to Wikipedia) and is entirely open source. Unlike other instruction sets, RISC-V has no license fees attached to it.

I had the chance to test two different chip producers for RISC-V: SiFive (which outsource the actual manufacturing) and GigaDevice. SiFive is what you will see on the most common development boards like the HiFive boards. In this article I’m using the RED-V Thing Plus from SparkFun which has the same MCU than the HiFive 1 Rev B. One of the main advantage of the RED-V is the Qwiic connector that I used in the previous article “Rust, Arduino and Embedded Development as a Beginner: Part 1”. This allows us to connect the exact same screen (Zio Qwiic OLED Display (1.5inch, 128x128)) to the board and get started very qwiickly. It is worth mentioning that while the Qwiic connector makes it easy and safe to connect components together, it is not fast: connection through serial is faster. In this tutorial, we are going to push this I2C to its limits thanks to the very powerful FE310 microchip.

My own hardware choice

Note: We don’t need a USB to TTL serial cable this time.

First step: making sure everything works

I assume that the screen is working because I already made it work in the previous tutorial with the AVR. All we need to do now is make sure that the board itself is working by making a led blink. In this tutorial I’m not going to go through installing the IDE as suggested by the SparkFun’s RED-V development guide because I feel more confident with my previous experience and I go directly to the Rust guide to get started with HiFive 1 boards. It is very beginner friendly and, as it turns out, incredibly easy to get started. This is because the bootloader and the flashing program are using JTag.

There are two ways to flash the firmware:

  1. Using J-Link GDB Server

    You will need to download and install the J-Link GDB Server. I’m not really sure how to install it as I used the ArchLinux AUR package jlink-software-and-documentation (thanks to Alexis Polti for the maintenance). This method doesn’t require you to press a button to flash but it does require to install the software.

  2. By copying the hex file to the disk.

    You can actually boot in flash mode by pressing the button. A “USB disk” will appear on your system: mount it, copy your hex file, unmount, reboot. No software needed.

This time I followed the tutorial and I created a new repository based on the template. Then I edited the example to adapt it to my board. The RED-V Thing Plus doesn’t have three leds like the HiFive 1, therefore I adapted the example to a single led located on the SPI SCK pin. I found this led by looking at the schematics that you can find in the documents on SparkFun. I looked for “led” and I found a blue led between IO23 and SPI MOSI. You can always check if the code builds by using cargo check. In this case, use cargo check --example leds_blink to check that the example builds.


* Basic blinking LEDs example using mtime/mtimecmp registers
* for "sleep" in a loop. Blinks each led once and goes to the next one.

extern crate panic_halt;

use hifive1::hal::delay::Sleep;
use hifive1::hal::prelude::*;
use hifive1::hal::DeviceResources;
use hifive1::sprintln;
use hifive1::{pin, pins, Led};
use riscv_rt::entry;

fn main() -> ! {
    let dr = DeviceResources::take().unwrap();
    let p = dr.peripherals;
    let pins = dr.pins;

    // Configure clocks
    let clocks = hifive1::clock::configure(p.PRCI, p.AONCLK, 320.mhz().into());

    // Configure UART for stdout
        pin!(pins, uart0_tx),
        pin!(pins, uart0_rx),

    // get all 3 led pins in a tuple (each pin is it's own type here)
    let rgb_pins = pins!(pins, (spi0_sck));
    let mut blue = rgb_pins.into_inverted_output();

    // get the local interrupts struct
    let clint = dr.core_peripherals.clint;

    let mut led_status = true;

    // get the sleep struct
    let mut sleep = Sleep::new(clint.mtimecmp, clocks);

    sprintln!("Starting blink loop");

    loop {
        match led_status {
            true => blue.set_high().unwrap(),
            false => blue.set_low().unwrap(),

        led_status = !led_status;

        sprintln!("Status: {}", led_status);


If the check is working you can now use one of those methods to upload the new firmware:

  • Method 1: Using J-Link GDB Server

    You will need to run multiple terminal for this because the GDB server needs to keep running in the background. In one terminal you need to run:

    sudo JLinkGDBServer -device FE310 -if JTAG -speed 4000 -port 3333 -nogui

    (You might not need sudo if you have set up user permissions to the device).

    The program should keep waiting if it detected the device properly.

    Then you can run in another terminal:

    cargo run --example leds_blink

    The two programs will interact and load the new firmware. You should see the led blinking.

  • Method 2: By copying the hex file.

    1. First, you need to build the program:

      cargo build --example leds_blink
    2. Now you can connect the device in USB and you should see a new disk, mount it.

    3. Then generate the hex file from the binary using this command:

      objcopy -S -j .text -j .rodata -O ihex \
          ./target/riscv32imac-unknown-none-elf/debug/examples/leds_blink \
    4. Unmount. It should reboot automatically on the new firmware and you should see the led blinking.

You can also observe the logs through a serial USB. Check /dev/ttyACM0. Example using serial-monitor:

serial-monitor -p /dev/ttyACM0 -b 115200

Make an animation on the screen

If you followed the previous tutorial “Rust, Arduino and Embedded Development as a Beginner: Part 1” this should be quite straightforward.

You will need the animation frame we have generated in “Rust, Arduino and Embedded Development as a Beginner: Part 3”. Copy the RAW files to the src/ directory.

For the example, we are using nightly features, so make sure you tell rustup to use it:

rustup override set nightly

Now in the file src/


extern crate panic_halt;

use hifive1::hal::i2c::{I2c, Speed};
use hifive1::hal::prelude::*;
use hifive1::hal::DeviceResources;
use hifive1::{pin, sprintln};
use riscv_rt::entry;

const FRAME_1: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-1.raw");
const FRAME_2: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-2.raw");
const FRAME_3: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-3.raw");
const FRAME_4: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-4.raw");
const FRAME_5: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-5.raw");
const FRAME_6: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-6.raw");
const FRAME_7: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-7.raw");
const FRAME_8: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-8.raw");
const FRAME_9: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-9.raw");
const FRAME_10: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-10.raw");
const FRAME_11: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-11.raw");
const FRAME_12: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-12.raw");
const FRAME_13: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-13.raw");
const FRAME_14: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-14.raw");
const FRAME_15: &[u8] = include_bytes!("F501-15.raw");

fn main() -> ! {
    let dr = DeviceResources::take().unwrap();
    let p = dr.peripherals;
    let pins = dr.pins;

    // Configure clocks
    // NOTE: this screen goes up to 320MHz
    // NOTE: watch out because it gets really warm!
    let clocks = hifive1::clock::configure(p.PRCI, p.AONCLK, 100.mhz().into());

    // Configure UART for stdout
        pin!(pins, uart0_tx),
        pin!(pins, uart0_rx),

    // Configure I2C
    let sda = pin!(pins, i2c0_sda).into_iof0();
    let scl = pin!(pins, i2c0_scl).into_iof0();
    let mut i2c = I2c::new(p.I2C0, sda, scl, Speed::Fast, clocks);

    // Get blue led
    let sck = pin!(pins, spi0_sck);
    let mut blue = sck.into_inverted_output();

    // This is the the address of your device. You can find it in the data sheets of
    // your device.
    let address = 0b0111100;

    // a small macro to help us send commands without repeating ourselves too much
    macro_rules! write_cmd {
        ($($bytes:expr),+) => {{
            if let Err(err) = i2c.write(address, &[0b00000000, $($bytes),+]) {
                sprintln!("Error: {:?}", err);

    // turn on the screen
    write_cmd!(0xa0, 0x51);

    // fill the screen
    // our screen is 128 pixels long but we divide by 2 because there are 2 pixels per byte
    write_cmd!(0x15, 0, 63);
    // our screen is 128 pixels height
    write_cmd!(0x75, 0, 127);
    // note that I reduced the buffer size!!
    let mut data = [0x00; 1024 + 1];
    data[0] = 0b01000000; // the control byte
    for _ in 0..8 {
        if let Err(err) = i2c.write(address, &data) {
            sprintln!("Error: {:?}", err);

    // dimensions of the frames
    let width = 40;
    let height = 42;

    // prepare drawing area
    write_cmd!(0x15, 0, width / 2 - 1);
    write_cmd!(0x75, 0, height - 1);

    // we override the first data byte with the control byte which tells the screen we are
    // sending data
    // note: it was done already before but just want to make sure in case you comment the screen
    // filling above
    data[0] = 0b01000000;

    // a helper to help us draw an image
    let mut draw_frame = |frame: &[u8]| {
        // an iterator that will convert the frame's bytes to data bytes usable by the screen:
        // every byte sent to the screen draws 2 pixels: the first 4 bits are for the first
        // pixel while the last 4 bits are for the second pixel
        // every byte in the frame contains 8 bits so 8 monochromatic pixels
        // 8 / 2 = 4
        // this iterator returns 4 data bytes for 1 frame byte
        let mut chunks = frame.iter().map(|x| {
                (x & 0b10000000).count_ones() as u8 * 0b11110000
                    + (x & 0b01000000).count_ones() as u8 * 0b00001111,
                (x & 0b00100000).count_ones() as u8 * 0b11110000
                    + (x & 0b00010000).count_ones() as u8 * 0b00001111,
                (x & 0b00001000).count_ones() as u8 * 0b11110000
                    + (x & 0b00000100).count_ones() as u8 * 0b00001111,
                (x & 0b00000010).count_ones() as u8 * 0b11110000
                    + (x & 0b00000001).count_ones() as u8 * 0b00001111,
        // we count the number of bytes that have been copied so we don't send the whole buffer
        let mut i = 1;
        while let Some(chunk) = {
            // copy_from_slice requires that the source slice and the destination slice are
            // exactly the same otherwise it will panic
            data[i..(i + 4)].copy_from_slice(&chunk);
            i += 4;

        if let Err(err) = i2c.write(address, &data[..i]) {
            sprintln!("Error: {:?}", err);
        let _ = blue.toggle();

    loop {

Implementation notes

In “Rust, Arduino and Embedded Development as a Beginner: Part 3” we used a macro to draw every frame. We could have done it using a function or a closure but that would mean that when the code is compiled to assembly, there will be jumps to this function/closure. I wanted to optimize the best I could so I used a macro instead.

A macro literally add code to your code before it gets compiled. So for example, if you do:

macro_rules hello_world {
    () => {{
        println!("Hello World!");


This code will be equivalent to:

println!("Hello World!");
println!("Hello World!");
println!("Hello World!");

If, instead, you use a function, the code will look like this:

fn hello_world() {
    println!("Hello World!"); // this code exists only once

hello_world(); // jump to hello_world
hello_world(); // jump to hello_world
hello_world(); // jump to hello_world

You can see the generated code of a macro by using cargo-expand. This is a very handy tool if you work with macros and want to see what’s going on.

You can read more about the cost of a jump here. On a normal CPU it would be ridiculous to do but on the ATmega I thought (I might be wrong) that it could have a bigger impact. My intent was to make it as fast as possible.

In this example with RISC-V I decided to not use a macro this time but a closure instead. My intent is still to make it as fast as possible but there is a little detail you need to know about the FE310-G002: this MCU has an instruction cache which can overflow if you have too many instructions in your loop, thus making cache miss and forcing the MCU to load the instructions from flash memory instead (which is slower than the cache). In this particular case the macro version of draw_frame was a lot slower than the closure.

We didn’t have this issue with the ATmega because there is no MCU cache, it just loads everything from flash. On modern CPUs the entire program is loaded into memory and there is a much bigger CPU cache.