Microcontroller suppliers at the recent Embedded Systems Conference in San Francisco unveiled products that offer a step up in performance -- enough to reduce software development effort or remove other components from the board -- without a big increase in price.
Continuing to build low-cost, off-the-shelf MCUs around the ARM processor, Sharp Microelectronics of the Americas (SMA) unveiled a 32-bit general-purpose series based on the ARM922T core.
With speed up to 200MHz and power consumption of 1.33mW/MHz, the devices -- part of the company's Blue-Streak line -- offer a compelling alternative to architectures from Intel, Motorola, and Samsung for WindowsCE-based applications, according to Terry Thomas, director of MCU and SoC marketing at SMA, Camas, Wash.
"Customers can use an ARM9 Blue-Streak running at 200MHz and put a DSP on for streaming video, and the power is significantly less and performance is the same or better than Intel can do in an 800MHz XScale," Thomas said.
The first family member, the LA-7A400, is set to enter production, to be followed in November by additional devices. The LA7A400 has a 1.8V core, 16Kbytes of cache, a memory management unit, a color LCD controller, 80 Kbytes of local SRAM, and a host of peripheral functions. Volume pricing for the family will run $10 to $13.
Atmel Corp. is also enhancing performance. By migrating from 0.5- to a 0.35-micron process this year, the AVR 8-bit controller's performance will double to 60MHz, said Bard Pedersen, AVR marketing manager at Atmel, San Jose.
The speed increase, coupled with on-chip multipliers, allowed one AVR customer to design-out a DSP, Pedersen said. Because complex instructions are built in, the MCU is able to handle tasks that would otherwise send designers to a more expensive 32-bit architecture, he added.
Atmel's 2003 AVR roadmap includes MCUs designed for low-power and battery-operated systems, wireless applications, secure smartcards, devices with on-chip USB and CAN controllers, and with on-chip LCD drivers.
"We're moving away from having only the AVR to having a broad range of AVR devices," Pedersen said. "In the AVR world, we see a lot of SoC applications in which things like displays and mechanical components are the only externals needed."
In a separate development, Atmel is rolling out a USB 2.0 controller designed to reduce time spent by customers developing software. The AT43USB370 acts as either host or peripheral controller without burdening the system's CPU, said Jeff Gao, marketing manager for USB products.
"Ordinarily, USB intelligence is in the firmware, not the hardware," Gao said. "We've designed a USB chip you can drop into a system with all the intelligence embedded. This approach reduces the design cycle from around 12 months to a couple of weeks."
The AT43USB370 supports in-system firmware upgrade, which allows the chip to switch between host and function modes in real time, enabling functionality similar to that of the USB On-the-Go extension to USB 2.0, though the device is not compliant with OTG, he said.
Samples and development kits for the controller are available. Housed in a 100-pin TQFP, pricing starts at $4.89 in quantities of 10,000.