Introducing AT32: Game-Changer for Affordable Flight Controllers and ESCs

by Oscar
Formatfactoryarterytek At32f435 Mcu Flight Controller Processor Cheaper Power Fc Board

Exciting news for the FPV community: Flight controllers and ESC are about to get cheaper thanks to the introduction of AT32 MCU in these boards! SMT32 flight controllers and flight stacks have become more expensive in recent years, with a complete flight stack costing over $100 became a norm. However things might change in the near future thanks to a new player entering the market – Artery AT32 chips! The potential saving for FPV drone pilots would be desirable, however there are factors you might want to consider before jumping in.

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The Problem with STM32

Stm32f405rgt6 Mcu Flight Controller Processor

The micro controller unit (MCU) is the brain of our flight controllers, and the STM32 MCUs have long been the industry standard ever since the beginning of 32-bit FC, offering stability and performance that others couldn’t match. If you are not familiar with MCU in flight controller, check out this tutorial: https://oscarliang.com/f1-f3-f4-flight-controller/

However, the global silicon shortage and inflation in recently years have led to a significant increase in chip prices. This has prompted manufacturers to search for viable alternatives to maintain competitive pricing for FC and ESC. As a result, manufacturers have been leveraging lower-end parts such as the STM32 F4 series to manufacture more affordable components. A perfect example of this strategy is the Speedybee F405 V3, which, in 2023, stands out as a highly popular FC/ESC stack, primarily owing to its cost-effectiveness.

Recognizing this trend and to further address the STM32 cost challenge, companies are now exploring an entirely different, yet highly economical MCU option – the AT32.

What is AT32?

Arterytek At32f435 Mcu Flight Controller Processor Neutronrc At32f435

The AT32 is a MCU made by ArteryTek. It’s important to note that the AT32 is not a clone or a direct drop-in replacement for the STM32. To work with Betaflight, the AT32 will require some adaptations. However, considering its comparable performance and cost-effectiveness, it presents itself as a viable alternative to the STM32 MCU for our flight controllers.

Thanks to the comparable functionality and performance, you won’t be losing any advanced features or computational power when switching from STM32 to AT32. The truly compelling aspect of AT32 microcontrollers is their affordability compared to STM32.

In fact, AT32 MCU (AT32F421) are already being used in some of the latest ESCs, including the Hobbywing G2 45A, 65A 4in1 ESC, which we recently reviewed. It runs BLHeli_32 firmware, but you will also find this chip that on AM32 ESC.

Below is a overview of the specifications of popular STM32 F4 chips used in flight controllers and the AT32F435.

MCU Package Size Processing Speed Flash Memory SRAM
STM32F411CEU6 6x6mm 100MHz 512KB 128KB
STM32F405RGT6 10x10mm 168MHz 1MB 192KB
AT32F435CGU7 6x6mm 288MHz 1MB 384KB

The new chip we’re starting to see in flight controllers is the AT32 F435. This chip offers performance between STM32’s F405 and F722, running at 288 MHz, compared to the F405’s 168 MHz and F722’s 216 MHz. Despite being based on the same M4 core CPU as the STM32 F4 series, it offers performance comparable to the larger M7 core found in the F7 series, thanks to increased clock speed and RAM. Additionally, with its smaller package size, the AT32F435 also emerges as a superior alternative to the STM32F411 for tiny micro quads.

Note that we can’t just compare the processor speed directly, there are more to consider, such as the differences and precision of the floating point units. It would be like comparing Intel processors to Apple M series processor. While the STM32 F7 chip does have double precision for floating point units, the real-world impact on FPV drones is minimal. After all, both STM32 F7 and AT32 F4 processors aren’t even being used to their full capability currently.

What makes the Artery chipset really stand out is its price-performance ratio. The AT32 F435 is cheaper than STM32 F4 counterparts, which leads to the lower cost of flight controllers.

Where Can You Buy AT32 FC?

We can anticipate more manufacturers offering controllers with the AT32 chipset. It brings substantial benefits to the end-user, particularly in terms of cost.

If you’re intrigued by the potential of AT32 flight controllers and want to give them a try, they are available for purchase now. Currently, NeutronRC appears to be the only manufacturer offering them.

One of the first AT32 flight controllers is an AIO board featuring a 25.5×25.5mm mounting pattern, powered by an AT32F435 MCU. It comes with an integrated 4-in-1 ESC that operates on AM32 firmware, powered by an AT32F421 MCU. There are 3 versions differentiated by ESC ratings of 35A, 45A, and 55A. The 35A version is available at an astounding price of just US$39.5! There’s also a slightly more expensive BLHeli_32 version. Get yours here:

Neutronrc At32f435 Am32 Aio Flight Controller Fc Esc Board Bottom

Neutronrc At32f435 Am32 Aio Flight Controller Fc Esc Board Top

For those seeking an alternative, iFlight also recently released their first AT32 FC (iFlight Blitz ATF435):

Caution: Compatibility with Betaflight

Artrey is still relatively new in the FPV ecosystem, which means there are challenges like drivers and Betaflight compatibility. At the time of this article, AT32 flight controllers are not compatible with Betaflight official release yet.

In May 2023, the NeutronRC F435 flight controllers for example, are running a special fork of the old Betaflight 4.3, called ATBetaflight. Its GitHub page can be found here: https://github.com/flightng/atbetaflight

In Jan 2024, you can now flash and configure AT32 flight controllers by downloading the latest Betaflight Configurator 10.10.0 RC1 (Artery AT32F435/7 DFU and VCP support). However it’s still a release candidate, not a stable release yet. But if you want to try AT32 FC this is a good way: https://github.com/betaflight/betaflight-configurator/releases

If you want the latest and greatest features of Betaflight, it might be wise to hold off for now. That being said, work is actively underway to extend Betaflight support to these new AT32 flight controllers and is expected to arrive in Betaflight 4.5. There’s no exact date yet, but we’re certainly looking forward to trying out these more affordable flight controllers.

Installing Drivers

When you first plug an AT32 FC into your PC, Windows should install the drivers automatically. If not, you could manually install the drivers by following these instructions. Note that the Impulse RC Driver Fixer does not work for AT32 FC.

Connection Driver

It’s rare that you need to install this driver, but if you cannot connect the AT32 FC to the Betaflight configurator at all, Virtual COM Port driver might need to be installed.

  1. Visit the MCU page: https://www.arterychip.com/en/product/AT32F435.jsp
  2. In the “USB Tool and Driver” section, download and install “Virtual serial port composite PC driver”: https://www.arterychip.com/download/USB_Tool_Driver/VirtualCOM_Composite_DriverInstalll_V1.0.31.zip

DFU Drivers

Sometimes you could connect to an AT32 FC, but cannot flash firmware, this might mean DFU driver is needed. If you check in Device Manager, it would show the AT32 in DFU mode with a yellow symbol, indicating the absence of the correct drivers.

  1. Go to the AT32F435 page: https://www.arterychip.com/en/product/AT32F435.jsp
  2. Under Resources, then “Tool”, download “In-System-Programming tool supporting AT32 MCU”: https://www.arterychip.com/download/TOOL/Artery_ISP_Programmer_V2.0.11.zip
  3. Unzip and go to the “Artery_DFU_DriverInstall” directory to start the installer.
  4. Complete the installation and power cycle your PC (unplug cable, plug back in).

Conclusion

Although it may be premature to hail the AT32 as the new revolution in FPV drone technology, it’s undeniably a thrilling advancement. The Artery AT32 chip promises to deliver powerful, reliable performance at a significantly lower cost, making the joy of FPV flight more accessible.

Edit History

  • May 2023 – article created
  • Jan 2024 – added info about support for AT32 FC VCP and DFU in Betaflight Configurator 10.10.0 RC1.

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15 comments

hamlet 10th October 2023 - 11:13 am

where can I find AT32F435 bootloader file

Reply
Olaf 21st June 2023 - 10:15 pm

Do they support inverted uarts? Still have so many sbus receivers.

Reply
Oscar 25th June 2023 - 1:07 pm

it would probably make more sense to switch to a better radio link system than restricting what flight controller you could use, don’t you think? For example ExpressLRS, which I believe will give you far superior features and performance and future support than Frsky.

Reply
Peter Ponker 24th May 2023 - 4:13 pm

Very nice Oscar!
I just found this FC.
I think it also has the same chip.
https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/_Dk6ia0z

Reply
Dominic Clifton 24th May 2023 - 10:41 am

STM32H562VGT6 is better than china-clone AT MCUs and doesn’t have the same project overheads that introducing AT32 support has.

IMHO it would have been better to add support for Risc-V / ESP32 / or start off-loading some computational tasks to a cheap FPGA co-processor which are stupid-cheap these days (Lattice ICE40 series, for example).

Reply
JuHu 30th May 2023 - 2:43 am

If there was anyone to listen to about this topic it’d be this guy. I would gladly help fund a GoFundMe so Dominic could learn Mandarin and go to China to visit every manufacturer and tell them how to make much better products at lower prices.
PS love my h7rf thanks Dominic

Reply
[email protected] 30th May 2023 - 6:22 am

And it is 20x more expensive. F… STM.

Reply
zhanhuju 6th June 2023 - 8:59 am

This is not clone, if you have read the article.

Reply
SC 23rd May 2023 - 5:38 pm

Great article as always Oscar! A gentleman posted this article on iNav group which discusses interesting comparison between the two platforms
predictabledesigns.com/atmega-versus-stm32-which-microcontroller-is-best-for-your-application/

Reply
William Leong 24th May 2023 - 1:58 pm

It’s not an ATMega chip, I’m afraid.

Reply
James Taylor 23rd May 2023 - 1:54 pm

Thanks I love your on the spot about new teck
Keep them coming!!

Reply
Adho 9th October 2023 - 10:49 am

Hi oscar is it already compatible with DJI o3 air unit?
My gopro and FC just died and this might be a good option if it is compatible.

Reply
Kore 23rd May 2023 - 12:55 pm

Looks like it might eventually be ardupilot compatible too with its flash memory and sram amount.

Reply
porlock 23rd May 2023 - 12:18 pm

Interesting, when they will be officially supported by BF days of STM hegemony in FC world will be over :)
but for now i would advice caution, they maybe some “small” things that will make them not great candidate for a brain of an FC, let’s BF devs does they jobs. For example GD32 cpu family is on the market for very long time, they are 99% STM compatible and 40% cheaper but there is no BF version so fare.

Reply
McGiverGim 22nd May 2023 - 11:40 am

Take into caution that AT32 is better than STM32. The MIPS of the chip make it better than a F405, but not better than a F722, for example. The MHz are not the only way of measuring it.

Reply