What next for microcontrollers?

by Joseph Yiu , TechOnline India - November 01, 2010

What next for microcontrollers?One of the hottest topics in the embedded world is when will the last of remaining 8-bit microcontroller users start to move away from legacy architectures and move to modern 32-bit processor architectures like the ARM Cortex-M based microcontroller family.

The embedded world is constantly changing. You might not have noticed, but if you take a minute to recall what a microcontroller system was like 10 years ago and compare it to today's latest microcontroller systems, you will find that PCB design, component packages, level of integration, clock speed, and memory size have all going through several generations of change.

One of the hottest topics in this area is when will the last of remaining 8-bit microcontroller users start to move away from legacy architectures and move to modern 32-bit processor architectures like the ARM Cortex-M based microcontroller family.

Over the last few years there has been a strong momentum of embedded developers starting the migration to 32-bit microcontrollers and, in this multi-part article, we will take a look at some of the factors accelerating this migration.

In the first part of this article we will summarize as to why embedded developers should consider moving to the 32-bit microcontrollers.

The strongest reason for this move is an increase in the complexity of embedded products required by the market and consumer. As embedded products get more and more connected and provide more features, current 8-bit and 16-bit microcontrollers just cannot cope with the processing requirements. Even if an 8-bit or 16-bit microcontroller could cope with the requirements for the current project, it poses a serious risk of limiting future product upgrade opportunities, and the ability to re-use code across developments.

The second common reason is that embedded developers are starting to be aware of the benefits of migrating to 32-bit microcontrollers. Not only do 32-bit microcontrollers provide over ten times the performance but the migration also allows a reduction in power consumption, smaller program size, faster software development time as well as better software reusability. The details of these advantages will be covered in subsequent parts of this article.

Another reason is the choice, range and availability of ARM based devices. Nowadays more and more microcontroller vendors are providing ARM based microcontrollers. These products provide a wider choice of peripherals, performance, memory size, packages, cost, etc.

In addition, the ARM Cortex-M based processors also have a number of features specifically targeted at microcontroller applications. These features allow ARM based microcontrollers to be used in wide and ever growing range of applications. At the same time, the price of ARM based microcontrollers has reduced significantly over the last five years and there are more and more low cost or even free development tools available for developers.

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