It's amazing to me that one of the early microcontroller cores -- the 8-bit Intel 8051, which was first introduced more than 30 years ago in 1981 -- is still going strong.
Of course, the fact that billions and billions of controllers based on this core have been sold has a lot to do with this. This is because there's a humongous amount of legacy code laying around, and also because a lot of people have a lot of expertise with this processor (many have experience with no other core), along with the fact that many people are still working with 8051-based tool chains they purchased a decade or more ago (they don't want to purchase or learn new tools).
In fact, I was just chatting with the guys and gals at CAST, and they were telling me about a new 8051-compatible microcontroller core they've just announced. CAST's new super-fast 8051 MCU Core -- the S8051XC3 -- boasts a Dhrystone 2.1 performance rating of 0.252 DMIPS/MHz, which therefore offers a 26.85 times speed-up over the original 80C51 chip operating at the same frequency. Meanwhile, the S8051XC3's dynamic power consumption, which can be as low as 2.4µW/MHz, rivals that of low-power 32-bit processors and is lower than other 8051-compatible cores.
The exciting thing is that the 8051 is proving to be such a vibrant market. It seems only yesterday that my chums at DCD were boasting that they had the world's fastest (and "bestest") 8051-compatible core. In fact, my first question to the guys at CAST was "How does this compare to the 8051 from DCD?"
They replied as follows:
The Dhrystone score rates this new core at 26.85x the original at the same frequency, which just beats DCD's best 8-bit 8051 at 26.62x (as you can imagine, that's not an accident!) Our partners achieved this by starting from scratch and applying several modern processor architecture design techniques. Furthermore, our CPU size is about 7K gates, while DCD's is about 10K gates. We believe the ongoing uses for 8051s justify this significant design effort.
Oooh! That's fighting talk if ever I heard it. But all joking aside, I find it tremendously exciting that this sort of innovation continues to take place. I can only imagine what the designers of the original 8051 think about the fact that their core is still going strong, and also what they think about the new architectural techniques that are being employed to achieve such dramatic speedups and power reductions.
I wonder what the future will bring. What do you think?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting