In an effort to gain mass amid a fragmented embedded controller market, Sharp Microelectronics of the Americas (SMA) is plying an off-the-shelf microcontroller line based on the ARM7TDMI processor, and backing the products with an ambitious strategy to distribute them through design partners in China.
SMA, the worldwide MCU design center of Japan's Sharp Corp., has begun sampling its BlueStreak family of 16/32-bit controllers, which aim to give designers of industrial controls, white goods, smart appliances, toys, and PDAs low-cost access to a high-performance architecture with a mature support infrastructure.
Today, the BlueStreak products will debut in China through SMA's sister distribution companies, Sharp Microelectronics China and Sharp/Roxy Hong Kong.
The company is also looking to partner with several independent Chinese design firms that would promote and resell the BlueStreak products through reference designs, said Terry Thomas, director of microcontroller and system-on-chip marketing at SMA, Camas, Wash.
"A lot of OEMs in China don't have the experience to do PDA designs," Thomas said. "A design house will do a reference design and license it to anybody that wants to manufacture it."
Sharp, the parent, will also leverage its display, flash, and optoelectronic products into these reference designs, he said. Distribution agreements are expected to be in place by the end of April.
Also, SMA has tapped Logic Product Development of Minneapolis to offer a BlueStreak development kit for $299.
The BlueStreak family offers a low-cost path from 8 bits to 16 bits without forcing designers into a proprietary architecture, Thomas said.
SMA has taken ARM Ltd.'s 32-bit ARM7TDMI core, operating at 50MHz, and scaled down the datapath for 16-bit addressing to allow the use of low-cost components on the board, he said.
Later this year, SMA plans to expand the BlueStreak line with a higher-end controller family based on the 200MHz ARM9 core.
Leveraging a popular architecture with a well-developed ecosystem of third-party tools and operating systems will be an important step to increase Sharp's embedded controller market share, which stood at less than 1% in 2001, according to Tony Massimini, an analyst at Semico Research Corp., Phoenix.
The company will also try to play off of its leading position in the TFT display arena by integrating LCD controller IP in the MCUs and aiming them at LCD-centric applications.
Sharp is the latest company to extend ARM cores to reach more microcontroller designs. Oki Semiconductor last month unveiled a series of standard 16/32-bit controllers based on the ARM7TDMI, and Atmel Corp. has begun showing a family of off-the-shelf parts based on the ARM9.
The four BlueStreak MCUs operate at up to 66MHz at 3.3V over the industrial temperature range, and offer a wide array of features such as 8-input, 10-bit A/D converters with an integrated touchscreen controller and 32 Kbytes of SRAM.
The LH75400 and LH75401 include support for CAN 2.0, a protocol for industrial controls in electrically noisy environments. The LH75400 includes a grayscale LCD controller, and the LH75401 includes a color LCD controller.
For applications not using CAN, SMA is offering the LH75410 with a grayscale LCD controller and the LH75411 with a color LCD controller.
Pricing is in the $6 to $7 range based on 10,000-unit quantities.