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16bit MCU portfolio targets performance, cost goals

Posted: 21 Nov 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mcu? dsc? microcontroller? digital signal controller? reden mateo?

Obolsky: Embedded designers will migrate to 16bit MCUs.

In the advent of more complex electronic design requirements from customers for increased speed, efficiency and performance, chipmakers jumped on the 32bit bandwagon for microcontroller-intensive applications. Microchip Technology chose to take a different path as it rolled out its line of 16bit microcontroller units (MCUs) and digital signal controllers (DSCs).

Mitch Obolsky, vice president of the Advanced Microcontroller Architecture Division at Microchip Technology, is responsible for strategic and product marketing, product architecture and development, customer support through applications engineering and manufacturing support through product engineering. EE Times-Asia talked to Obolsky regarding Microchip's 16bit controller portfolio roadmap.

EE Times-Asia: What are the key drivers of 16bit MCU development today? How does this compare to the 8bit and 32bit developments currently happening?

Mitch Obolsky: There are multiple forces driving high-performance MCU designs, including communications, low power and performance. Overlaying these forces is software growth, which is clearly one of the major challenges embedded designers face. For many of these increasingly software-intensive applications, 16bit microcontrollers deliver an optimum balance of low-cost products high performance with flexible memory configurations, integrated peripherals and highly productive software development environments. The requirement of multiple communication protocols, in addition to demanding real-time applications, is driving the need for software library functions such as TCP/IP, USB, CAN and ZigBee protocol stacks. As multiple communications channels are deployed, the demands for large program memory, substantial RAM buffers and high-speed CPU execution are growing. Many handheld and portable applications are emerging, and this is driving the need for low-power 16bit MCUs with low costs, and high levels of memory, analog and communications integration.

The 8bit MCU has been the work horse for the embedded designer for many years. New MCU development is focused on achieving ever more aggressive price targets while maintaining the low power, memory, small form factor and peripherals required by the application.

The 32bit architectures attempting to enter the embedded-control market offer many of the same capabilities and performance as 16bit MCUs. They must evolve to achieve the execution predictability, real-time responsiveness and development simplicity of 8bit and 16bit MCUs. Embedded developers expect the management of CPU and memory resources to be seamless and transparent.

Why are 16bit MCU lines being released in the advent of the industry talking and actually shifting to 32bit MCUs already? Will the migration to 32bit MCUs overshadow companies developing 16bit lines of microcontrollers?

Obolsky: The 16bit MCU market is both larger and growing faster than the 32bit MCU market. According to leading market analyst firm Gartner-Dataquest, the 16bit MCU marketing grew 21 percent to $4.1 billion from 2003 to 2004, compared to the 32bit MCU market which grew 20 percent to $3 billion over the same timeframe. Many 8bit suppliers that do not offer viable 16bit MCU architecture have elected to invest in 32bit architectures. Many of these architectures and resultant products do not possess the key product attributes expected by embedded control design engineers, including: predictable instruction execution, full performance execution from Flash memory, easy single-cycle bit manipulation, and most importantly, a robust and predictable interrupt structure, which is vital for real-time applications.

What are the current challenges in the embedded design and how can MCUs help in general?

Obolsky: Responding to software growth while achieving program schedules and cost goals, and meeting system performance specifications, are the primary challenges of today's and tomorrow's embedded system designer. The availability of cost-effective MCUs with efficient C code execution, easy-to-use integrated development environment (IDE), extensive software support and flexible peripheral sets are critical to the success of embedded design projects. We anticipate that embedded designers will migrate across many compatible 16bit MCU and DSC products to achieve individual project cost and performance goals. Microchip is the only supplier to offer fully compatible product families for both 16bit MCUs and DSCs. Thus, embedded engineers can move within a single, compatible software and hardware architecture-based on system requirements. That's a huge advantage to the design team in terms of development time, and delivering optimum cost and performance to their end customer.

What would be the role of memory and peripherals in MCU development and integration?

Obolsky: From a systems perspective, the integration of memory and peripherals are key enablers to achieving the system designer's cost, power and schedule goals. The mix of Flash program memory and RAM must address the needs of software-library functions, protocol stacks, application-specific code, communications and display buffers, and RTOS supervision.

The peripheral set must have a flexible mix of digital-control, analog and communications peripherals. System functions such as low power modes, power-up and fault control and flexible oscillator and clock options, are key to system cost reduction and managing power dissipation. MCU suppliers must respond to industry trends such as the growing pervasiveness of USB, Ethernet in embedded applications, and the emergence of the ZigBee wireless protocol for command-and-control communications. The need for higher resolution and faster sample rate ADCS is driven by DSC applications such as motor control and power-supply management. Dense process technologies allow the integration of multiple highly complex peripherals.

How significant is Microchip Technology's presence in the Asian region, specifically in the microcontroller segment?

Obolsky: The Asia region is key to Microchip's current and future MCU revenue and growth. In 2004, the Asia region contributed 43 percent of the 8bit MCU revenue followed by the Americas at 29 percent and Europe at 28 percent. Microchip continues to invest heavily in this critical market by opening ten new sales offices over the last 18 months bringing our total Asia sales office to 25. Total professional sales and technical staff in Asia now exceeds 250 employees.

What are your core technology strategies for countries such as China and Taiwan in a revenue perspective?

Obolsky: Microchip's focus on customer education can be seen in our 6th annual China Masters technical conference being organized in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, and our 2nd India Masters in Bangalore and Pune in November 2005. In addition, Microchip is on track to train more than 10,000 engineers in Asia during 2005.

Microchip continues to invest in assembly and test operations in Thailand, where approximately two million microcontrollers are being tested everyday.

Microchip established an Asia-based design center in Bangalore more than five years ago, and continues to rapidly expand our presence there. The facility also serves as a hub for local Asia customer applications support.

What is the general technology roadmap for microcontroller development in the years to come? How would it affect the affect the electronics industry?

Obolsky: Microcontroller technology has typically lagged the leading-edge technology of high-end MPUs and DSPs by one to four generations. This roadmap relationship is expected to continue as it provides cost-effective, large-capacity wafer fab facilities with a large and stable demand to extend their life and fund the next generation. It also provides the process technologists with a window of time to integrate into the process high-density Flash memory, low power for battery and hand-held applications, and the analog capabilities required by embedded designers.

Package trends are continuing to push low cost and small form factors from four to six pins to over 200 pins. Thermal management is key, in the larger packages, for demanding applications such as automotive, and in higher-performance peripherals such as 10/100 BaseT Ethernet controllers.

What should system designers expect on Microchip in the MCU and DSC segment in the next five years?

Obolsky: We expect customers and the markets they serve to continue to provide the focus and direction for our product and technology development. As mentioned above, several key trends we recognize are low power dissipation, small packages across all spaces (8bit and 16bit MCUs and DSCs), and more and varied communications channels. Equally important for 16bit MCUs and DSCs is the software content, including protocol stacks, drivers and function libraries such as motor control and security. Also on the list for continued development are a host of application-specific libraries for our DSCs, such as digital filter design tools, soft modems and VoIP building blocks. Microchip serves a large and diverse base of embedded system designers. We look forward to being a part of their continued growth and success. Just as we have in the 8bit microcontroller arena, we plan to rapidly expand the 16bit PIC24 MCU and dsPIC DSC families to meet our customers' ever-growing needs.

- Reden Mateo

EE Times-Asia

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