Nordic Semiconductor has announced the first members of its nRF51 family - a new series of system-on-chip (SoC) devices targeting 2.4 GHz applications. Based on the ARM Cortex-M0 core, the devices include the multi-protocol nRF51822 SoC targeting proprietary and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) applications and the nRF51422 - industry's first ANT/ANT+ SoC. At the heart of each device, an improved radio design and high-performance 32-bit core enable Nordic to boost radio link budget by 9.5 dB while dramatically cutting power requirements.
Designed for low-power coin-cell battery applications, the devices boast peak currents under 10mA and feature a unique fine-grain power-management scheme. The devices feature a Programmable Peripheral Interconnect (PPI) design that allows autonomous operation of peripherals, further reducing power consumption associated with processor operations. In fact, Nordic heavily leverages the speed and increased code density of the 32-bit ARM core to reduce power-hungry CPU cycles.
"The Cortex's 100x faster startup time means less current is required for startup and 10x higher performance means it finishes processing faster, so the duty cycle is much improved," said Thomas Embla Bonnerud, Nordic Director of Product Management. "As a result, the devices require 50% lower average current compared to previous generations of Nordic RF ICs."
A more efficient multi-protocol radio and high-performance 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 core provide the foundation for Nordic's new nRF51 family - the nRF51822 for Bluetooth Low energy and proprietary 2.4 GHz designs and the nRF51422, the industry's first single-chip ANT/ANT+ device.
In providing BLE and ANT/ANT+ stacks on the separate devices, Nordic utilized a protected memory architecture that separates application code from stack code. For these devices, developers use application programming interfaces (APIs) provided as header files in the company's software development kit. All application code interacts with the provided stacks through function calls - a methodology that Nordic expects will speed development and reduce conflicts often found in development of wireless applications based on software stacks provided as libraries. According to Bonnerud, this separation was essential for reliable application development on SoC devices.
"Two chip solutions are good because you don't have to worry about the stack, but when you have to manage stack code in your application, you end up with tons of dependencies,"" said Bonnerud. "For the nRF51, the application developer sees a standard stack but because we use clean APIs, the code is runtime protected so the application code can't do anything that affects the stack."
Sampling now to Nordic customers, the devices will be generally available in early September 2012, with production quantities scheduled for availability beginning later in the year. According to Bonnerud, pricing will be in the $2 range, depending on quantity.
Click for more on the nRF51 Series SoC.