LONDON With help from lead partner and licensee NXP, ARM Holdings plc (Cambridge, England) has designed a very low gate-count ARM processor core suitable for use in microcontrollers aimed at ultra-low power applications. Chips are expected to ship from licensees before the end of 2009.
The processor core, previously codenamed Swift and now called Cortex-M0, looks set to be one more (last?) nail in the coffin of the 8-bit microcontroller as well as enabling ARM and its licensees to engage in applications mandated on energy efficiency, such as wireless sensor nodes and e-metering.
And with just 12,000 gates the Cortex-M0 core has been designed expressly for low power consumption and could find many applications although ARM is by no means the first company to offer a low gate-count processor core.
The Cortex-M0, which has not yet been implemented in dedicated silicon, is behind the established Cortex-M3 core both in terms of performance and complexity. But that reduced complexity has the benefit of producing a low-cost and potentially very low-power implementation of the ARM 32-bit processor architecture.
The Cortex-M0 offers 32-bit performance in the footprint of a 16-bit processor, enabling 8-bit MCU developers to "skip" 16-bit devices and move directly to 32-bit, ARM claimed, but with the advantage of remaining compatible with the established Cortex-M3 and with the Cortex-M1, which is ARM's synthesizcable microcontroller core for use in FPGAs.
The low gate-count also allows the M0 to be implemented in what is essentially the digitization of analog or mixed-signal chips, the company said.
"We will supply M0-based components before the end of 2009," said Geoff Lees, general manager of the microcontroller division at chip company NXP BV (Eindhoven, The Netherlands). NXP has only been in the market with Cortex-M3 microcontrollers since October 2008, nonetheless Lees has clearly has applications in mind for the M0 in the industrial, consumer and medical sectors.