Problems with 23K256 and AVR/Arduino

23K256 IC pinout

The Microchip 23K256 is a great little device with 32 KiB of fast static ram over an SPI interface. I had some trouble getting this chip to work, and after searching online it looks like many people have some common problems. I'll show you a brief checklist you can use if you're having trouble like I was.

  1. The HOLD pin. This pin can be used to pause a sequential transfer and resume it immediately without having to re-send the address. If you don't care about this feature, tie the HOLD pin to Vcc (3.3v).
  2. The NC pin. This pin should not be connected to anything, including Vcc or GND. Just leave it floating.
  3. The HOLD bit. Read the datasheet carefully: writing a 1 bit disables the HOLD feature. Make sure you're setting this bit HIGH.
  4. Vcc. If you're using short wires and you're not sharing the SPI bus among several devices, the 23K256 can be powered from 2.7V. But this chip seems to need strong SPI signals with low capacitance. If you're running into problems using the chip on a shared SPI bus, try giving the chip a higher voltage supply -- it can tolerate up to 4.5V. Just don't permanently run the chip above 3.6V or it may become unreliable.
  5. The voltage levels. This chip runs from 2.7V - 3.6V. If you're interfacing with a 5V Arduino, you'll need to convert the Arduino's 5V signals to around 3V using a level converter circuit. This is simple with SPI because all of the data lines are unidirectional -- they're either microcontroller-to-sram or sram-to-microcontroller. The 23K256's 3V logic output should be high enough to be read directly by modern microcontrollers like the AVR in an Arduino. The microcontroller's 5V signals must be dropped to around 3V before they reach the 23K256. A simple voltage divider for these signals (MOSI, SCK, CS) will work at low SPI speeds, and can be built from 2 resistors per signal.
  6. MOSI/MISO. The chip's datasheet labels these pins SI/SO. There are several sources online (including Wikipedia) that say SO means Serial Output. Nope, when we're dealing with SPI, SO always means Slave Out. As in, the data stream going out from the SPI slave device (the 23K256) to the microcontroller.
  7. SS/CS. This is a big gotcha with Arduinos and all Atmel AVR microcontrollers. You can use any gpio pin as a Slave Select (aka Chip Select) line. However, the microcontroller's primary SS pin must be set as an output during SPI operation, even if you're not using it. If the SS pin isn't explicitly configured as an output pin, SPI transactions will mysteriously fail (usually by timing out because the SPIF bit never goes high), because the SPI hardware will be in slave mode. This is an easy mistake to make!
  8. The init sequence. The 23K256 essentially has no init, but we can write a simple routine to make sure communication is working:
#define SRAM_DESELECT() PORTD |= (1 << PORTD7);
#define SRAM_SELECT() PORTD &= ~(1 << PORTD7);

enum {

#define SRAM_MODE 0x41 /* sequential access, hold pin disabled */

uint8_t sram_read_status(void)
    uint8_t val;

    val = spi_write(0xff);

    return val;

uint8_t sram_init(void)
    uint8_t retry;

    DDRD |= (1 << PORTD7); /* set CS pin as output */


    retry = 255;
    while (sram_read_status() != SRAM_MODE && --retry) {

    return retry != 0;