Could the 8-bit MCU be experiencing a renaissance?

So, is the 8-bit MCU experiencing a renaissance? According to Electronics Weekly, it’s rather possible. A recent article notes that despite the rise of ARM architecture and widespread adoption of 32-bit microcontrollers (MCUs), a number of suppliers like Atmel are “more committed to their 8-bit chips than ever before.”

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In fact, the publication points out that companies are now adding higher performance peripherals and extending development tools for their highly-popular 8-bit lineups.

“Atmel is another supplier which continues to invest in its range of megaAVR MCUs. Now in their third generation, the MCUs are attracting growing interest in hobbyist/professional crossover applications as a result of being designed into the Arduino low cost embedded computing platform.”

Since its initial launch in 2002, the megaAVR family has become the go-to choice of Makers and engineers alike. The MCUs, which include the stalwart ATmega328 to ATmega32U4, can be found at the heart of millions of gadgets and gizmos, including an entire lineup of Arduino boards, 3D printers such as RepRap and MakerBot, as well as a number of innovative DIY platforms.

“This family of 8-bit megaAVR MCUs has been highly recognized by a variety of communities from the professional designers using our Atmel Studio ecosystem to the hobbyist and Maker in the AVR Freaks and Arduino communities,” explained Oyvind Strom, Senior Director of Marketing for Atmel’s MCU Business Unit.

These MCUs run single-cycle instructions with performance of 1MIPS per MHz, while on-chip flash memory spans from 4KB to 16KB. These new devices provide next-gen enhancements including analog functionality and features for the latest low-power hungry consumer, industrial and IoT applications.

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As Electronics Weekly notes, the burgeoning Maker Movement combined with the low-cost embedded board phenomenon has created a new playground for 8-bit devices. This “new relevance” has never been more apparent than with Arduino’s adoption of AVR MCUs, which can be found in its wildly-popular Uno (ATmega328), Leonardo (ATmega32U4) and Mega (ATmega2560) to name just a few.

The primary attraction of 8-bit MCUs is not only affordable performance, but with 8, 14 and 20-pin packages, they also are affordable and easier to use than their 32-bit counterparts.

Development tools are also matching the increasing range of higher performance applications for these MCUs as well. Take Atmel’s Xplained Mini 8-bit development platform for instance, which not only costs less than $9 but are also designed with an optional Arduino header for expandability.

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The article goes on to reference IAR Systems, who recently updated its high-performance development tools for 8-bit MCUs. Just a few weeks back, IAR Systems and Atmel announced an extension of their ongoing partnership would include over 1,400 example projects in IAR Systems’ development tools to support Atmel’s entire portfolio. This allows designers using microcontrollers, like the 8-bit AVR, to leverage the Embedded Workbench C/C++ compiler and debugger toolchain with new example projects to bring their products to market faster.

Interested in reading more? You can access the entire article here. Meanwhile, you can also browse through our extensive lineup of 8-bit microcontrollers here.

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