OSLO – Nordic Semiconductor ASA announced the first members of a new family of 2.4 GHz RF chips that take a fresh approach to supporting multiple protocols. The nRF51 series separates protocol and application software stacks, letting developers write apps code on embedded ARM Cortex-M0 cores rather than require software frameworks specific to the chip vendor.
Nordic claims the approach will shorten time-to-market by easing the job of writing software. It also claims the components slash power consumption as much as 50 percent, provide a ten-fold boost in processing performance and a 9.5 dB increase in RF link budget compared to Nordic’s previous parts.
The use of the Cortex-M0 core is a big step up for Nordic which traditionally used 8051-compatible controllers, said Will Strauss, principal of market watcher Forward Concepts (Tempe, Ariz.).
The first two chips in the family are the nRF51822 supporting Bluetooth Low Energy or proprietary protocols and the nRF51422 for the ANT protocol. The hardware for the two chips is identical and includes 256 kilobytes flash and 16 kbytes RAM in a 6mm2 48-pin QFN package.
Nordic will deliver Bluetooth and ANT protocol stacks as a pre-compiled binary or pre-programmed on the devices. The software runs in an asynchronous and event driven manner and includes APIs to the application layer, the company said.
In addition, protocol stacks and application code have no link-time dependencies and can be compiled and updated separately, Nordic said. A custom two-region memory protection unit helps enforce the separation of protocol and apps code. The separation ensures any application layer bugs will not affect the protocol software, the company added.
The nRF51822 comes with a Bluetooth low energy stack including profiles, services, and example applications provided as a downloadable, royalty-free, pre-compiled binary. It requires less than 128 kilobytes of code space and 6 kilobytes of RAM.
The chip also comes with an updated version of Nordic’s Gazell protocol stack. The software is backward compatible with Gazell applications on its existing nRF24L chips and cuts power consumption by 30 percent.
The nRF51422 includes software implementing the ANT protocol stack, ANT+ profiles and example applications. It supports up to eight concurrent ANT channels and requires less than 32 kilobytes of code space and 2 kilobytes of RAM.
Nordic was early to adopt the ANT protocol which enables even lower power consumption levels than Bluetooth Low Energy, said Strauss.
The chips are aimed at a wide range of PC peripherals, connected TV remote controls, toys, automated controls and sports, fitness and health care sensors. They are compatible with Nordic's existing nRF24L series
The new series is in limited sampling now with general availability in early September. Volume production is expected before the end of the year.