At the kick-off today of its bi-annual DevCon, Renesas made the selection of MCUs a little bit easier with the announcement of a new website devoted to parametric MCU search, community and tech support. So, is there any room left for independent MCU selection guides?
New MCUs are being announced, literally by the hundreds, by all the main MCU manufacturers, from Freescale and Texas Instruments and Atmel, to Microchip and of course Renesas, which has the largest overall market share. This of course makes the selection of ‘the best’ MCU for a given task at once both likely as well as daunting.
For the average design, the choice may simply be a case of reusing the MCU the developer used last time, but for high-volume, low-power applications, every memory cell, extra pin, redundant I/O port or MHz of operation becomes critical. Hence the variety, and the resultant commoditization of the descendents of that most hallowed and venerable invention: the 8051 microcontroller architecture.
Once a novelty, MCUs are now everywhere, like silicon resistors, and cover the performance, peripheral and software support gamut. Fortunately, the typical engineer pretty much knows what they want here, and with a bit of history with a certain company and their hardware and software support, they’re more than likely to stick with that company and just pick from a palette they know.
However, if those engineers are designing the next generation device, they may have to go ‘off the reservation’ and into uncharted territory. That’s where independent search sites like GruntWare’s Gopher come into their own, with literally thousands of devices at the tips of your fingers, with uploads from all the major manufactuers. Lots of features too, including shared-pin analysis.
That sounds good. But every major manufacturer is busy sprucing up its own search. TI has always led in this area. Now Renesas, with RXMCU.com is hitting the ground running with a site launched as part of the RX line’s official coming-out party here at DevCon in Los Angeles.
The site does full parametric search with easy controls and is supported by blogs, papers and tech support.
With all the companies now with a decent search engine, and much of the MCU choice dependent upon a priori experience in both hardware and software development tools, what is the role or indeed the future of GruntWare, and sites like it.
Is independent MCU search a dead end? Have you use GruntWare’s tool? What do you think?
I've struggled to find good tools to make comparisons between MCU (or any tech product for that matter). Each vendors' selector is different so it is extremely time consuming and tedious to do side by side comparisons or even worse, get a graphical representation (roadmap type) of multiple competitive MCU parts. Constant launch of new products, as the article mentions, adds to the complexity. We've tackled most of these issues at www.keremi.com especially for the MCU market. Feel free to check us out.
I think, that parametric search between different architecures is practically useless. You need a good knowledge of your toolchain and detailed knowledge of the peripherals integration to make reliable product. To let strategic decisions to parametric search is very stupid. Of course, in our time part of the decision may be simplified by choosing ARM, but in our times the peripheral integration, description and toolchain and library support is more important than the processor core.
Time-to-market (TTM) is the mantra engineers should use to help push themseleves into a decision on the MCU/platform. Tell your boss TTM is the criterion you're using, he'll understand that. Tell yourself you don't want the shortest TTM come what may, rather the shortest TTM_with_a_solid_product. Then be honest, choose the surest, least-risk route. Avoid too-new stuff, ask around, definitely don't select cool toys just to help your CV. Get yr boss to agree to give you 'research' time for MCU eval, in exchange for finishing your main project on time.
My data sez that designers stick with a vendor they are familiar with (unless the vendor messes them up). Not sure how valuable multi-vendor searching is, but search tools like the new one from Renesas should be a big help...
I found that having low cost evaluation boards with the right MCU critical to getting a quick trial prototype out and into testing. I agree that there are myriads of MCUs from many vendors, the difference is support. Support in the form of ease of use programming/debugging, lots of relevant example code, and again low cost evaluation boards with enough pins / prototype area to "customize". One device I tried recently, seemed to have it all, low cost, simple IDE, enough pins, but when it came to use... the device sometimes connects properly to the IDE tool and then sometimes not at all. This has lead me to never use this vendor/MCU again. Too much wasted effort on a flaky implementation! Any other examples???
If there is requirement for good number of microprocessor devices, soon vendor should be able to deliver them with custom processor as required for particular application. Customer will be able to define all features of processor. Most significant advantage being, you do not waste any silicon and since you get all functionality required, parts count will be very low. Vendors like Atmel, Renesas and Texas may soon be able to deliver this type of solution and we hope it will be not that costly.
The introduction of devices is accelerating at such a rate and diversity that even the vendors will, at some point, admit that the biggest differentiator they have is their support. But they all say their support is the best. Renesas at this week's DevCon made it clear they're aggressively purusing that, and kudos to them for doing so. But the question then becomes: Who really does have the best support and what are the red flags to help identify who to avoid?
I like the way the Renesas selector works. To date, I've never really found a selector that I could actually use. I predominantly use PICs and I always seem to have to just browse through the Microchip list.
They do have a parametric search feature, but it never quite seems to work for me. The issue seems to be the difference between features that I care about and features that I don't. All of the features that I don't care about tend to clog up the process.
I haven't had much luck with independent guides either. I think there's just too many variants from too many manufacturers. I suspect that most designers get comfortable with one or two MCU families and just stick with that family.
I'd be real curious to find out if that's true and how other folks go about choosing which family and which specific device to use.
Technical specifications and features of MCU is one part of selection in design. Equally important is long term relation with vendor, their representative for the availability of sample devices and attractive price and payment terms. Free development tools and development kits also influences the selection. Finally, hands-on experience with reliability of device in industrial environment is also very important factor. Demo driver for USB, embedded internet and wireless communication also plays pivotal role in selection. This search engines are good as first step towards availability of device.
In my designing & development career spanning more than a decade, I have seldom used Gruntware or dedicated mcu search sites like the one by Renesas. I never felt the urge to do so !
I feel that more than a search feature, support features are welcome. If the site has application notes, hardware reference designs, driver code etc. it is more useful than the search feature. For the sake of comparison, tabulated listing of the parts with all the features serve more than enough to me.
How do others feel about this ? I'd love to know that :)
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.