Austin, Tex. In a move to one-up its competition in the increasingly competitive microcontroller chip business, Freescale Semiconductor is launching a new 68K/Coldfire microcontroller core, that for the first time will enable users to easily upgrade from 8- to 32-bits with the same on-chip peripherals and tools sets. This next phase of the company's Controller Continuum strategy will be unveiled at the company's Freescale Technology Forum, that meets in Orlando, Fla. this week.
"Designers have been waiting a long time for a single architecture to give them the ability to move effortlessly between 8- to 32-bit," said Mike McCourt, vice president and general manager of Freescale's Microcontroller division. "Freescale's 68K/ColdFire V1 core is the foundation that will give designers an entirely new level of freedom in the creation of electronics. Freescale's next generation V1 core products will give designers the option to move up in performance without the high cost traditionally associated with 32-bit architectures."
Freescale expects to spin-off as many as eight Coldfire families from the new V1 core. The roadmap shows Coldfire general purpose devices, Coldfire LCD controller devices, Coldfire USB enabled devices and Coldfire CAN devices. Many of the devices will be lauched in 2007.
The move comes at a time when Freescale is facing intense competition for sockets in both the 8- and 32-bit MCU arenas. In the 32-bit space, Freescale now faces the ARM architecture for which there are now numerous licensees offering devices at various price and performance levels in competition to the well-established 68K/Coldfire. At the same time, the 8-bit arena remains robust with constant upgrades from vendors such as Microchip Technology, Atmel, STMicroelectronics, and Ramtron among many others. There are also new parts coming out at 16-bits and the new generation of digital signal controllers that blend MCU and DSP functionality into the same device.
"The biggest issue is software," said Jim Feldhan, president of Phoenix-based Semico Research. "Freescale has a tremendous following. There is a lots of software available in terms of code and real time operating systems for their 8- and 32-bit architectures. As the demands for processors increase from 8- to 32-bits, continuum from 8- 32 bits offers a huge advantage to use the code that's been developed."
"Their continuum strategy certainly shows that Freescale values their customers investment in software and tools. Users have many man-years invested in their peripherals, software and tools," according to Feldhan.
The new Coldfire V1 core is a simplified version of the existing Coldfire V2 architecture. It offers upward compatibility to all other Coldfire cores (V2, V3, and V4) with the same addressing modes and instruction definitions. The instruction set provides optional MAC/EMAC/DIV instructions and improved handling of byte (8-bit), word (16-bit) operands.
The V1 core is a 2-stage operand execution pipeline that enables tightly-coupled 32-bit local memories (flash & SRAM), standardized 8-bit bus to S08 peripherals. It is the same programming model as ColdFire cores (V2 through V4). In addition, there is support for ColdFire compiler conventions with no changes.
A critical element of the Freescale strategy is the new 8-bit RSO8 core that was launched earlier this year. The intent is for future 8- and 32-bit devices to use the same peripherals. In fact, 32-bit V1 and 8-bit RS08 devices will built at the same time, to ensure their compatibility, according to Freescale marketing manager, Jeff Bock.
The RS08 core is a simplified version of Freescale's low-power HCS08 architecture. The MCU is targeted at traditional electromechanical designs and portable applications ranging from motor control to use-and-toss health care products.
"It's a new way to look at the 8-, 16- and 32-bit microcontroller continuum," said Bock, who will be discussing the continuum at an FTF session. "The ColdFire V1 32-bit MCU Family, and its compatibility with the 8-bit MCU S08 Family, allow customers to move up or down the Freescale Controller Continuum based on their performance requirements."
"Designers can basically drop new 68K/ColdFire devices that are pin-for-pin compatible, into their systems and immediately get more performance. Thus the new V1 core will allow easy migration between 8- and 32-bit architectures at a lower price point. By sharing common peripheral interfaces and development tools, the V1 core will simplify the design process and provide upward compatibility for all existing 68K/ColdFire cores," said Bock.
As performance and memory requirements rise in applications, such as consumer electronics, portable medical electronics, industrial and motor control, designers are hitting a wall within the 8-bit market. The V1 core will allow designers to expand performance with the ease of use of an 8-bit microcontroller (MCU) without compromising on price.
The V1 core will deliver the lowest power consuming devices of any other ColdFire products to date while delivering more processing performance than 8-bit MCUs with its increased system utilization. This new low voltage/low power performance technology allows the V1 core to achieve more aggressive stop/run currents than any other 32-bit architecture.
The full set of ColdFire architecture registers are built into the V1 core. It supports the same programming model of the ColdFire V2-V5 cores. The core uses S08 bus structure, which enables the use of similar peripheral and memory modules. For package pin compatibility, the V1 uses S08's single pin background debug mode to create simple interface configuration.
The 8-bit RS08 core fulfills the low end of the roadmap, providing flexibility and value at price points below 50 cents. The company has combined a new RS08 microcontroller core, 1 Kbyte of flash, 63 bytes of RAM in a 6-pin package for price of 43 cents. The RS08 core is a simplified version of Freescale's low-power HCS08 architecture. The MCU is targeted at traditional electromechanical designs and portable applications ranging from motor control to use-and-toss health care products. Click here for more details. RS08 MCU
"We expect the Freescale products announced this year to be the start of a new breed of microcontroller products," said Paul Grimme, senior vice president and general manager, Freescale's Transportation and Standard Products Group, in a statement. "We are seeing the number of bits become irrelevant as designers select from a controller performance continuum with a peripheral portfolio that scales to the application."
Will Strauss, president of Market researcher Forward Concepts sees Freescale's moves as part of a larger trend among microcontroller and DSP vendors to protect investments in software development by offering compatible chips in the low and high end of the performance range. "It's the right strategy to take, considering their installed base of 8- and 32-bit users. They want to take the product line up and down (in performance) and it's really happening."
Strauss added: "Freescale is the only microcontroller vendor with a true migration path for OEMs. Most engineers like roadmaps."
Freescale continues to expand its ecosystem of third-party development support and industry momentum continues to accelerate. Freescale's V1 core will share a common set of tools with the SO8 8-bit architecture, starting with the CodeWarrior 6.0 development studio. The CodeWarrior tool set makes programming the 32-bit 68K/ColdFire architecture as simple and straightforward as programming an 8-bit MCU. Freescale plans to enhance its CodeWarrior Development Studio with automatic code generation, which enables first-time users to create working projects in as few as seven clicks. The company is also defining a unified hardware development platform that provides common board and cable interfaces and gives designers a consistent experience across architectures.
While Semico's Feldhan acknowledges there is intense competition in the microprocessor/microcontroller market, he says the continuum plan should be a barrier-to-entry to hold on to their customer base. "Engineers have been working with their software and tools for many years. With time to market now so important, compatibility of software and tools will be a big advantage to use the Freescale architectures," said Feldhan.
Atmel Corp., a leading Freescale competitor in microcontrollers has pursued a different path, focusing on devices based on the ARM architecture and their proprietary AVR solutions. "We don't see an immediate need for compatibility in peripherals between our AVR and ARM architectures," said Jacko Wilbrink, Atmel's ARM marketing manager. Atmel has developed ARM-based MCUs at different price points. The company has low cost solutions that he says will compete with 8-bit devices.
"The introduction of the V1 core will allow us to use both 8- and 32-bit technology in a formerly 8-bit only space, without the development discontinuities imposed by multiple architectures," said Matt Chang, the Engineering Manager at Opto 22. He said his company has had a long history of using Freescale microcontrollers and microprocessors in its most successful products.
According to Semico's Feldhan, "Freescale has so much experience. They have a slew of peripherals for industrial and telecom markets. But, in this business, no vendor can sit still."