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Assessing 8bit MCU communication interfaces for IoT

Posted: 13 Aug 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:communication interfaces? human-machine interfaces? HMI? IoT? sensor?

A significant number of IoT applications are "thin client" in nature. This is what makes them a natural fit for an 8bit machine with limited flash and onboard RAM. For example, most sensor applications where voltages/currents must be sensed and operated upon and then transmitted upstream are suited to an 8bit machine. Examples include gas and oxygen sensors in connected home applications and pressure sensors in commercial/industrial applications.

Simple control applications are also better suited to 8bit rather than 32bit machines, especially if complex real-time I/O manipulation is necessary. Specifically, the 8051 architecture allows fast I/O bit manipulation with concurrent logical operations, which is useful in control applications. These applications are usually space- and power-sensitive, which also plays to the strengths of 8bit devices such as the high-speed 8051 MCUs from Silicon Labs. Note that various ARM Cortex-M series devices can also play in these applications, but, given the board area and power and real-time limitations of the systems, an 8bit machine with a more deterministic execution model will perform better.

Today's IoT connected device applications require versatile MCUs capable of addressing complex communication challenges in a multi-protocol environment. A preponderance of MCU interfaces and connectivity technologies must co-exist on the same die simply because the IoT ecosystem is so diverse. RF integration in particular has done an outstanding job of uniting two essential IoT capabilities: ultra-low power and wireless communication. The addition of superior analogue performance enables the creation of wireless sensor nodes requiring very little external support circuitry.

While 8bit MCUs may not be the right fit for every IoT-connected device application, they are good choices for cost-sensitive applications requiring small packages, small memory footprints, high functional density, determinism, and speed of response. The high-performance 8051 8bit architecture coupled with the plethora of interfaces available today provides an ideal solution for many IoT applications.

About the author
Thomas Davidis a principal design engineer for Silicon Labs' microcontroller products. He was the lead designer for Silicon Labs' first 32bit MCU products, the Precision32 family based on the ARM Cortex-M3 processor. In addition, he has been involved, either as a designer or as a chip lead, with almost all of the MCUs released by Silicon Labs. Mr. David came to Silicon Labs as part of the Cygnal Integrated Products acquisition in 2003. Prior to his tenure at Cygnal, he was president of Silogix, an Austin, Texas-based silicon intellectual property company that was acquired by Cygnal Integrated Products. He holds a BSEE from Purdue University and an MSEE from Penn State University.

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