The drivers MAX7219 and MAX7221

The MAX7219/MAX7221 are compact common – cathode display drivers that interface microcontrollers to 7 – segment numeric LED displays of up to 8 digits (or 64 individuals LEDs).

Included on-chip: A BCD code for data coding which can be enabled or not. The MAX7219/MAX7221 allows the user to select code- B decoding or no-decode for each digit. They have an 8X8 static RAM that stores each digit. Only one external resistor is required to set the segment current for all LEDs. Individual digits may be addressed and updated without rewriting the entire display.

The MAX7219/MAX7221 can be connected to all common microcontrollers with a convenient 3-wire serial interface. They are identical except for two parameters: the MAX7221 segment drivers are slew-rate limited to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and the MAX7221 serial interface is fully SPI compatible.
The devices MAX7219 and MAX7221 include a 150μA low-power shutdown mode, analog and digital brightness control, a scan limit register that allows the user to display from 1 to 8 digits, and a test mode that forces all LEDs on.

Serial-Addressing Modes

For the MAX7219, serial data at DIN, sent in 16-bit packets, is shifted into the internal 16-bit shift register with each rising edge of CLK regardless of the state of LOAD. For the MAX7221, CS must be low to clock data in or out. The data is then latched into either the digit or control registers on the rising edge of LOAD/CS. LOAD/CS must go high concurrently with or after the 16th rising clock edge, but before the next rising clock edge or data will be lost. Data at DIN is propagated through the shift register and appears at DOUT 16.5 clock cycles later. Data is clocked out on the falling edge of CLK. Data bits are labeled D0–D15 (Table 1). D8–D11 contain the register address. D0–D7 contain the data, and D12–D15 are “don’t care” bits. The first received is D15, the most significant bit (MSB).

Digit and Control Registers

A register can be a digit or control register. Each register has on its own address. Table 2 lists the 14 addressable digit and control registers. The digit registers are realized with an on-chip, 8×8 dual-port SRAM. They are addressed directly so that individual digits can be updated and retain data as long as V+ typically exceeds 2V. The control registers consist of decode mode, display intensity, scan limit (number of scanned digits), shutdown, and display test (all LEDs on).

Shutdown Mode

When the MAX7219 is in shutdown mode, the scan oscillator is halted, all segment current sources are pulled to ground, and all digit drivers are pulled to V+, thereby blanking the display. The MAX7221 is identical, except the drivers are high-impedance. Data in the digit and control registers remains unaltered. Shutdown can be used to save power or as an alarm to flash the display by successively entering and leaving shutdown mode. For minimum supply current in shutdown mode, logic inputs should be at ground or V+ (CMOS-logic levels). Typically, it takes less than 250μs for the MAX7219/ MAX7221 to leave shutdown mode. The display driver can be programmed while in shutdown mode, and shutdown mode can be overridden by the display-test function.

Initial Power-Up

On initial power-up, all control registers are reset, the display is blanked, and the MAX7219/MAX7221 enter shutdown mode.

Decode-Mode Register

The decode-mode register sets BCD code B (0-9, E, H, L, P, and -) or no-decode operation for each digit. Each bit in the register corresponds to one digit. A logic high selects code B decoding while logic low bypasses the decoder. Examples of the decode mode control-register format are shown in Table 4. When the code B decode mode is used, the decoder looks only at the lower nibble of the data in the digit registers (D3–D0), disregarding bits D4–D6. D7, which sets the decimal point (SEG DP), is independent of the decoder and is positive logic (D7 = 1 turns the decimal point on). Table 5 lists the code B font. When no-decode is selected, data bits D7–D0 correspond to the segment lines of the MAX7219/MAX7221. Table 6 shows the one-to-one pairing of each data bit to the appropriate segment line.

Intensity Control and Interdigit Blanking

The MAX7219/MAX7221 allow display brightness to be controlled with an external resistor (RSET) connected between V+ and ISET. The peak current sourced from the segment drivers is nominally 100 times the current entering ISET. This resistor can either be fixed or variable to allow brightness adjustment from the front panel. Its minimum value should be 9.53KOhms, which typically sets the segment current at 40mA. Display brightness can also be controlled digitally by using the intensity register. Digital control of display brightness is provided by an internal pulse-width modulator, which is controlled by the lower nibble of the intensity register. The modulator scales the average segment current in 16 steps from a maximum of 31/32 down to 1/32 of the peak current set by RSET (15/16 to 1/16 on MAX7221). Table 7 lists the intensity register format. The minimum interdigit blanking time is set to 1/32 of a cycle.

Scan-Limit Register

The scan-limit register sets how many digits are displayed, from 1 to 8. They are displayed in a multiplexed manner with a typical display scan rate of 800Hz with 8 digits displayed. If fewer digits are displayed, the scan rate is 8fOSC/N, where N is the number of digits scanned. Table 8 lists the scan-limit register format.

If the scan-limit register is set for three digits or less, individual digit drivers will dissipate excessive amounts of power. Consequently, the value of the RSET resistor must be adjusted according to the number of digits displayed, to limit individual digit driver power dissipation. Table 9 lists the number of digits displayed and the corresponding maximum recommended segment current when the digit drivers are used.

Display-Test Register

The display-test register operates in two modes: normal and display test. Display-test mode turns all LEDs on by overriding, but not altering, all controls and digit registers (including the shutdown register). In display-test mode, 8 digits are scanned and the duty cycle is 31/32 (15/16 for MAX7221). Table 10 lists the display-test register format.

No-Op Register

The no-op register is used when cascading MAX7219s or MAX7221s. Connect all devices’ LOAD/CS inputs together and connect DOUT to DIN on adjacent devices. DOUT is a CMOS logic-level output that easily drives DIN of successively cascaded parts. (Refer to the Serial Addressing Modes section for detailed information on serial input/output timing.) For example, if four MAX7219s are cascaded, then to write to the fourth chip, sent the desired 16-bit word, followed by three no-op codes (hex XX0X, see Table 2). When LOAD/CS goes high, data is latched in all devices. The first three chips receive no-op commands, and the fourth receives the intended data.

Supply Bypassing and Wiring

To minimize power-supply ripple due to the peak digit driver currents, connect a 10μF electrolytic and a 0.1μF ceramic capacitor between V+ and GND as close to the device as possible. The MAX7219/MAX7221 should be placed in close proximity to the LED display, and connections should be kept as short as possible to minimize the effects of wiring inductance and electromagnetic interference. Also, both GND pins must be connected to ground.

Selecting RSET Resistor

The current per segment can be written as ISEG. To select RSET, see table 11. The MAX7219/MAX7221’s maximum recommended segment current is 40mA. For segment current levels above these levels, external digit drivers will be needed.


Example 1: What sequence of bytes should be sent to the MAX7221 in order to enable the decoding function for digit 0 and digit 2, and disable the decoding function for other digits?

Solution: The first byte should be xxxx 1001 (X9 hex) to execute the “Set decoding mode” command, and the second byte (argument of the command) should be 0000 0101 to enable the decoding function for digit 0 and digit 2.

Example 2: After running Example 1, what sequence of numbers should be sent to the MAX7221 in order to write 5 on digit 2?

Solution: The first byte should be xxxx 0011 (X3 hex) to execute the “Set value to digit 2” command, and the second byte (argument of the command) should be 0000 0101 (05 hex) to write 5 on digit 2. Notice that the decoding function for digit 2 has been enabled before.

Example 3: After running Example 1, what sequence of numbers should be sent to the MAX7221 in order to write U on digit 1?

Solution: The decoding function for digit 1 has been disabled before in Example 1, and we have to turn on/off each segment manually. As you see in the figure, segments B, C, D, E, and F should be turned on. To turn these segments of digit 1, we should send the first byte xxxx 0010 (X2 hex) to execute the “Set value of digit 1” command and then we should send 0011 1110 (0E hex) to write U on digit 1. Notice that the decoding function for digit 1 has been enabled before. The figure below shows the bits.