Upgrading the Sidewinder X1 with Big Tree Tech’s SKR v1.4 Turbo 32-Bit Board

By: Chanh Phuong

01/25/2020

     I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of buzz around upgrading your printer with a 32-bit board. So, what is all the fuss about? Will it give me better prints? You might be thinking, I already get great prints, why do I need a 32-bit board?

     Well, for starters, 8-bit computing was popular in the 70’s and early 80’s. While 32-bit isn’t exactly the computing standard today, it’s a heck of a lot better than 8-bits. I’ve been hesitant to upgrade to 32-bits mainly due to the complexity of this upgrade. And I was right, it took me nearly 2-weeks to get everything just right and printing when I’m usually able to complete upgrades in a couple days. But man was it worth all the work.

     I got a lot of help from folks on our International Mods FB Page and online, so I’m not 100% comfortable writing a how-to guide. Instead I will, at a high-level, provide details on what I did to get this mod going. Chances are, if you’re doing this mod, you have a lot of knowledge of your printer and how to get around the firmware. Also, this blog is about the SKR v1.4 Turbo with TMC2209 steppers. I only feel comfortable blogging about things I have firsthand knowledge of. This information may or may not apply to other SKR boards and steppers, that is for you to research on your own. 

So then, what got me to go to the dark side? Well, aside from better complex prints (allegedly), there are so many things that makes this upgrade great.

Here are the few that stand out to me:

  • With UART mode, you can adjust the stepper VREF in Marlin instead of having to open the case and adjusting it with a multimeter. 
  • With TMC2209s, I have sensorless homing, this is not something that is a must, but it’s cool because I can remove all the end-stops. This means I can use my BMG mod without having to turn the fan. Before if I had the fan like this, it would hit the x-axis stepper motor before the extruder hit the end-stop. This is no longer an issue with sensorless homing. 
SKR v1.4 Turbo Installed in my Sidewinder X1
  • Updating the firmware is a breeze! Instead of opening something like Arduino IDE and uploading the firmware to the board and hoping it doesn’t fail, you just have to compile is VS Code and drag a bin file over to the SD Card, reset the machine and you’re good to go. 
  • I can baby-step and adjust the z-offset without having to print from the USB. Before, if I sent a print to the printer using Octoprint, I had to make sure the printer is correctly tuned. Otherwise I’d have to print from USB so that I can baby-step if needed. 

Installation:

  • The first step is to replace your stock board with the SKR board. For the most part, most of the connections are in the same spot as stock. Aside from the stock RGB LED, there is a spot for all the stock connectors. 
  • Mount your board in place of the stock board. Due to the placement of the SD Card slot, you cannot mount this in the stock position without damaging the reader, I tried and had to get a replacement board. So, I designed a mount that you can use. Since you’re moving it down away from the stock position, this is where you’ll need the USB extension mount.

    Here is the Thingiverse Link: Click Here

  • Compile your firmware. I used VS Code to edit and compile the firmware. I am also using the latest released version of Marlin, which is Marlin Bugfix v2.01. This version is compatible with this 32-bit board, so make sure you use a version that is v2.0 or higher. I will not go into detail on what I did on the firmware side, you will have to research this on your own. I honestly don’t know enough to detail it out. 
  • Once your firmware is compiled and free of errors, upload it to the board’s SD Card and insert it into the board. For the first upload, it’s best practice to load the SD Card from your computer and then insert it into your board. From there you can upload the firmware using a USB connection. It’s important to leave the SD Card in the board so that you can do firmware changes moving forward via USB. When you connect your board via USB, your computer will recognize your board as an SD Card reader, from there you can copy and paste your firmware there. Pretty cool! 
  • Once your board is installed and the firmware has been uploaded, you can now start fine-tuning it. Thankfully, doing z-offsets, and many other options are available to you on your screen. I did a bed leveling test print and off-setted till I was happy with my line. I also noticed my extruder was struggling a little, so I increased the VREF.

Thoughts and Impressions

     I know these installation instructions were very high-level. I’m hoping it’s enough information for you to go off of and do the research you need to get things installed and working. If I can do it, you surely can. I am so not a firmware guy and this mod was totally outside of my comfort zone.
  
     Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been avoiding this upgrade because of the complexity of it. But even after 2 weeks of pulling my hair out and hard work, I am so glad I did it. I love how easy it is to change the firmware. And having the ability to change the VREF in Marlin instead of opening the case is mind blowing to me. I haven’t completed many prints yet but I’m super curious to see what this thing can do. The MKS Gen L board struggled with round shapes and round corners. I’m wondering if this board will fix that, I’m hoping it can. It might be in my head, but it seems like my printer moves a lot more smoothly and a lot more solidly. It’s like driving a Lexus instead of a Toyota. Anyways, I hope I gave you a little insight to this mod. It’s not an easy one, but all the features that comes with it makes it a worthwhile one in my book.

- Happy Printing!  

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