Tag Archives: EEMBC

4 reasons why Atmel is ready to ride the IoT wave

The IoT recipe comprises of three key technology components: Sensing, computing and communications.

In 2014, a Goldman Sachs’ report took many people by surprise when it picked Atmel Corporation as the company best positioned to take advantage of the rising Internet of Things (IoT) tsunami. At the same time, the report omitted tech industry giants like Apple and Google from the list of companies that could make a significant impact on the rapidly expanding IoT business. So what makes Atmel so special in the IoT arena?

The San Jose, California–based chipmaker has been proactively building its ‘SMART’ brand of 32-bit ARM-based microcontrollers that boasts an end-to-end design platform for connected devices in the IoT realm. The company with two decades of experience in the MCU business was among the first to license ARM’s low-power processors for IoT chips that target smart home, industrial automation, wearable electronics and more.

Atmel and IoT (Internet of Things)

Goldman Sachs named Atmel a leader in the Internet of Things (IoT) market.

Goldman Sachs named Atmel a leader in the Internet of Things (IoT) market

A closer look at the IoT ingredients and Atmel’s product portfolio shows why Goldman Sachs called Atmel a leader in the IoT space. For starters, Atmel is among the handful of chipmakers that cover all the bases in IoT hardware value chain: MCUs, sensors and wireless connectivity.

1. A Complete IoT Recipe

The IoT recipe comprises of three key technology components: Sensing, computing and communications. Atmel offers sensor products and is a market leader in MCU-centric sensor fusion solutions than encompass context awareness, embedded vision, biometric recognition, etc.

For computation—handling tasks related to signal processing, bit manipulation, encryption, etc.—the chipmaker from Silicon Valley has been offering a diverse array of ARM-based microcontrollers for connected devices in the IoT space.


Atmel has reaffirmed its IoT commitment through a number of acquisitions.

Finally, for wireless connectivity, Atmel has cobbled a broad portfolio made up of low-power Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee radio technologies. Atmel’s $140 million acquisition of Newport Media in 2014 was a bid to accelerate the development of low-power Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chips for IoT applications. Moreover, Atmel could use Newport’s product expertise in Wi-Fi communications for TV tuners to make TV an integral part of the smart home solutions.

Furthermore, communications across the Internet depends on the TCP/IP stack, which is a 32-bit protocol for transmitting packets on the Internet. Atmel’s microcontrollers are based on 32-bit ARM cores and are well suited for TCP/IP-centric Internet communications fabric.

2. Low Power Leadership

In February 2014, Atmel announced the entry-level ARM Cortex M0+-based microcontrollers for the IoT market. The SAM D series of low-power MCUs—comprising of D21, D10 and D11 versions—featured Atmel’s signature high-end features like peripheral touch controller, USB interface and SERCOM module. The connected peripherals work flawlessly with Cortex M0+ CPU through the Event System that allows system developers to chain events in software and use an event to trigger a peripheral without CPU involvement.

According to Andreas Eieland, Director of Product Marketing for Atmel’s MCU Business Unit, the IoT design is largely about three things: Battery life, cost and ease-of-use. The SAM D microcontrollers aim to bring the ease-of-use and price-to-performance ratio to the IoT products like smartwatches where energy efficiency is crucial. Atmel’s SAM D family of microcontrollers was steadily building a case for IoT market when the company’s SAM L21 microcontroller rocked the semiconductor industry in March 2015 by claiming the leadership in low-power Cortex-M IoT design.

Atmel’s SAM L21 became the lowest power ARM Cortex-M microcontroller when it topped the EEMBC benchmark measurements. It’s plausible that another MCU maker takes over the EEMBC benchmarks in the coming months. However, according to Atmel’s Eieland, what’s important is the range of power-saving options that an MCU can bring to product developers.

“There are many avenues to go down on the low path, but they are getting complex,” Eieland added. He quoted features like multiple clock domains, event management system and sleepwalking that provide additional levels of configurability for IoT product developers. Such a set of low-power technologies that evolves in successive MCU families can provide product developers with a common platform and a control on their initiatives to lower power consumption.

3. Coping with Digital Insecurity

In the IoT environment, multiple device types communicate with each other over a multitude of wireless interfaces like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy. And IoT product developers are largely on their own when it comes to securing the system. The IoT security is a new domain with few standards and IoT product developers heavily rely on the security expertise of chip suppliers.

Atmel offers embedded security solutions for IoT designs.

Atmel, with many years of experience in crypto hardware and Trusted Platform Modules, is among the first to offer specialized security hardware for the IoT market. It has recently shipped a crypto authentication device that has integrated the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDH) security protocol. Atmel’s ATECC508A chip provides confidentiality, data integrity and authentication in systems with MCUs or MPUs running encryption/decryption algorithms like AES in software.

4. Power of the Platform

The popularity of 8-bit AVR microcontrollers is a testament to the power of the platform; once you learn to work on one MCU, you can work on any of the AVR family microcontrollers. And same goes for Atmel’s Smart family of microcontrollers aimed for the IoT market. While ARM shows a similarity among its processors, Atmel exhibits the same trait in the use of its peripherals.

Low-power SAM L21 builds on features of SAM D MCUs.

A design engineer can conveniently work on Cortex-M3 and Cortex -M0+ processor after having learned the instruction set for Cortex-M4. Likewise, Atmel’s set of peripherals for low-power IoT applications complements the ARM core benefits. Atmel’s standard features like sleep modes, sleepwalking and event system are optimized for ultra-low-power use, and they can extend IoT battery lifetime from years to decades.

Atmel, a semiconductor outfit once focused on memory and standard products, began its transformation toward becoming an MCU company about eight years ago. That’s when it also started to build a broad portfolio of wireless connectivity solutions. In retrospect, those were all the right moves. Fast forward to 2015, Atmel seems ready to ride on the market wave created by the IoT technology juggernaut.

Interested? You may also want to read:

Atmel’s L21 MCU for IoT Tops Low Power Benchmark

Atmel’s New Car MCU Tips Imminent SoC Journey

Atmel’s Sensor Hub Ready to Wear

Majeed Ahmad is author of books Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics and The Next Web of 50 Billion Devices: Mobile Internet’s Past, Present and Future.

SAM L family now the world’s lowest power ARM Cortex-M based solution

Consuming one-third the power of existing solutions, Atmel | SMART SAM L achieves 185 EEMBC ULPBench score.

System design used to be an exercise in optimizing speed. That has since changed. Nowadays, embedded systems pack plenty of performance to handle a number of task, leading the challenge for designers to shift to completing those tasks using as little energy as possible — but not necessarily making it as fast as possible. As you can imagine, this has created quite the competitive environment on the processor battlefield amongst vendors, each seeking to attain the lowest power solution on the market.


“The surge in popularity of battery-powered electronics has made battery life a primary system-design consideration. In extreme cases, the desire is not to run off of a battery at all, but to harvest energy from local sources to run a system — which requires the utmost power frugality,” writes Andreas Eieland, Atmel Director of Product Marketing. “In addition, there’s a growing family of devices like smoke detectors, door locks, and industrial sensors (4-20 mA and 10-50 mA) that can draw power through their inputs, and that power is limited.”

These sort of trends point to the significance of reducing the power requirements of electronic systems. However, the varying technologies that provide the necessary performance make power reduction harder. Fortunately, Atmel has been focusing on low power consumption for more than 10 years across its portfolio of AVR and Atmel ǀ SMART ARM-based processors. Many integrated peripherals and design techniques are used to minimize power consumption in real-world applications, such as integrated hardware DMA and event system to offload the CPU in active and standby modes, switching off or reducing clock or supply on device portions not in use, intelligent SleepWalking peripherals enabling CPU to remain in deep sleep longer, fast wake-up from low power modes, low voltage operation with full functionality, as well as careful balancing of high performance and low leakage transistors in the MCU design.


With picoPower technology found in AVR and Atmel ǀ SMART MCUs, Atmel has taken it a step further. Indeed, all picoPower devices are designed from the ground up for lowest possible power consumption from transistor design and process geometry, sleep modes, flexible clocking options, to intelligent peripherals. Atmel picoPower devices can operate down to 1.62V while still maintaining all functionality, including analog functions. They have short wake-up times, with multiple wake-up sources from even the deepest sleep modes. Some elements of picoPower technology cannot be directly manipulated by the user, but they form a solid base that enables ultra-low power application development without compromising functionality. Meanwhile, flexible and powerful features and peripherals lets users apply an assortment of techniques to reduce a system’s total power consumption even further.

Then, there’s the Atmel | SMART SAM L21 microcontroller, which has broken all ultra-low power performance barriers to date. These Cortex-M0+-based MCUs can maintain system functionality, all while consuming just one-third the power of comparable products on the market today. This device delivers ultra-low power running down to 35µA/MHz in active mode, consuming less than 900nA with full 32kB RAM retention. With rapid wake-up times, Event System, Sleepwalking and the innovative picoPower peripherals, the SAM L21 is ideal for handheld and battery-operated devices for a variety of Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The ultra-low power SAM L family not only broadens the Atmel | SMART portfolio, but extends battery life from years to decades, reducing the number of times batteries need to be changed in devices such as fire alarms, healthcare, medical, wearable, and equipment placed in rural, agriculture, offshore and other remote areas. The SAM L21 combines ultra-low power with Flash and SRAM that are large enough to run both the application and wireless stacks — three features that are cornerstones of most IoT applications. Sampling now, the SAM L21 comes complete with a development platform including an Xplained Pro kit, code libraries and Atmel Studio support.

So how does the SAM L21 stack up against the others? Ahead of the pack, of course! As an alternative to so-called “bench marketing” of low power products, nearly ever large semiconductor company — and several smaller ones that focus on low power — have collaborated in a working group formed by the Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium (EEMBC). The EEMBC ULPBench uses standardized test measurement hardware to strictly define a benchmark code for use by vendors, considering energy efficiency and running on 8-, 16- and 32-bit architectures. At the moment, the Atmel | SMART SAM L21 product boasts the highest ULPBench score of any microcontroller, regardless of CPU.

“In Atmel’s announcement last year for the company’s SAM L21 family, I had pointed out the amazingly low current consumption ratings for both the active and sleep mode operation of this product family – now I can confirm this opinion with concrete data derived from the EEMBC ULPBench,” explained Markus Levy, EEMBC President and Founder. “Atmel achieved the lowest power of any Cortex-M based processor and MCU in the world because of its patented ultra-low power picoPower technology. These ULPBench results are remarkable, demonstrating the company’s low-power expertise utilizing DC-DC conversion for voltage monitoring, as well as other innovative techniques.”

While running the EEMBC ULPBench, the SAM L21 achieves a staggering score of 185, the highest publicly-recorded score for any Cortex-M based processor or MCU in the world — and significantly higher than the 167 and 123 scores announced by other vendors. The SAM L21 family consumes less than 940nA with full 40kB SRAM retention, real-time clock and calendar and 200nA in the deepest sleep mode.


In fact, a recent EE Times writeup delving deeper into competition even revealed, “TI surpassed its own earlier result by announcing the MSP-432 family based on the Cortex M4F. It achieved a ULPBench score of 167.4. While TI was briefing the media on this product, however, Atmel quietly published a ULPBench score of 185.8 for its SAM L21 MCU based on the Cortex M0+.”

Beyond the recently-unveiled ARM-based chip, it’s also important to note the 0.7V tinyAVR. A typical microcontroller requires at least 1.8V to operate, while the voltage of a single battery-cell typically ranges from 1.2V to 1.5V when fully charged, and then drops gradually below 1V during use, still holding a reasonable amount of charge. This means a regular MCU needs at least two battery cells. Whereas, Atmel has solved this problem by integrating a boost converter inside the ATtiny43U, converting a DC voltage to a higher level, and bridging the gap between minimum supply voltage of the MCU and the typical output voltages of a standard single cell battery. The boost converter provides the chip with a fixed supply voltage of 3.0V from a single battery cell even when the battery voltage drops down to 0.7V. This allows non-rechargeable batteries to be drained to the minimum, thereby extending the battery life. Programmable shut-off levels above the critical minimum voltage level avoid damaging the battery cell of rechargeable batteries.

battery_600x300 (1)

Interested in learning more? You can explore Atmel’s low power technology here, as well as download the new white paper entitled “Turn Power-Reducing Features into Low-Power Systems” here.

Benchmarks for embedded processors

Crack applications engineer Bob Martin was walking by just now and we got to talking about people we both knew from our National Semiconductor days. One name that came up was Markus Levy. Bob told me about EEMBC® — the Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium.


When I read up on the organization, I was delighted to see that Markus started work on embedded benchmarks when he worked at EDN magazine, where I also worked as an editor for 5 years. Back in 1996, it was clear that the old Dhrystone MIPS benchmark was not really meaningful to embedded systems. So Markus got a bunch of industry companies together and proposed the new benchmarks. They got 12 members right off the bat and got funding to establish real-world benchmarks that would be suitable for phones, tablets, routers and other embedded systems. As their about page explains:

“EEMBC benchmarks are built upon objective, clearly defined, application-based criteria. The EEMBC benchmarks reflect real-world applications and have expanded beyond processor benchmarks, also heavily focusing on benchmarks for smartphones/tablets and browsers (including Android platforms) and networking firewall appliances.”

I was glad to see that not only is Atmel a member, but so is ARM, who invented the cores used in Atmel’s 32-bit SAM line of microprocessors and microcontrollers. When you look at Atmel’s benchmark results, You can see our original 8051 processors get a score of 0.1. An AVR 8-bit MCU like the ATmega644 will get a benchmark score of 0.54. In contrast our ARM-core SAM3 and SAM4 chips will get a benchmark score up to 3.3. When I looked at a competitor’s ARM4 offering, I was delighted to see they ranged from 2.0 to 2.8, significantly slower than Atmel’s ARM4 SAM4 chips.

This is congruent with what I hear in the hallways here at Atmel. We just didn’t slap some counter-timers on an ARM core and release it. We took the time to do it right, adapting and improving the really cool peripheral system from our XMEGA 8-bit micros. I assume these benchmarks are just for raw speed, but the cool thing about Atmel’s peripheral event system is that you can have peripherals interact and do DMA without waking up the CPU core and sucking up a lot of power. Still it’s nice that the benchmark shows us as faster. This might mean you can get some chunk of code to execute faster and then get the micro put to sleep, saving power overall. This can be non-intuitive. If the micro’s compiler has more efficient code creation, you can get way more done with the same amount or less power. I know this is true for AVR 8- and 32-bit processors. The AVR was invented and crafted by hardware engineers that understood the importance of C and computer science in general. Although the entire AVR line did not spring fully-formed from the head of Thor, there were some really crafty Norwegians involved.

While the ARM-core SAM chips run ARM instruction sets, they too are optimized for compiling. After all, AVR showed the world how to do this in 1996. And with Atmel peripheral concepts, the SAM chips are really something. Check out the new SAM D20 Cortex M0+ micro for a nice inexpensive chip that can do a whole lot on minimal power.

Atmel’s SAM4S clinches highest CoreMark/MHz scores

Atmel’s SAM4S MCU lineup – which clocks in at a top speed of 120MHz+ – is based on ARM’s Cortex-M4 core. The microcontroller series integrates a Flash read accelerator along with cache memory to increase system performance. Additional key specs include a multi-layer bus matrix, multi-channel direct memory access (DMA) and distributed memory to facilitate high data rate communication.

Recently, the EEMBC (Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium) certified five SAM4S MCU benchmark scores running a version of CoreMark compiled using the IAR Embedded Workbench for ARM version 6.50. As it turns out, Atmel’s SAM4S MCUs racked up the highest CoreMark/MHz for any Cortex-M microcontroller submitted to date.

“The CoreMark benchmark is designed to measure the performance of the processor core alone,” Atmel engineering rep Brian Hammill told Bits & Pieces.

“While the CoreMark may not always convey how well a particular part will perform in a specific application, it does offer an accurate test of core performance and efficiency. As such, CoreMark can be used to understand how the performance of a particular MCU and compiler combination compares to others.”

According to Hammill, the Atmel scores are particularly significant as they illustrate the overall efficiency of the Cortex-M4 cache implemented on the SAM4SA16 and SAM4SD32, as well as the optimized performance of the IAR Embedded Workbench version (6.50).

“Looking at the Atmel SAM4SD32CAU, we see the CoreMark for the IAR EWARM 6.50 was run at both 21 MHz and 123 MHz. If we run the EEMBC CoreMark report or export the data to Excel, here is what we see:


“As expected, the CoreMark scores are much higher at the faster clock speed. But what is most significant is the difference in the CoreMark/MHz scores. Notice that the 21 MHz CoreMark memory configuration is zero wait states. The memory configuration for the 123 MHz CoreMark is 5 wait states but with prefetch and cache enabled. You see a small difference in the CoreMark/MHz scores between the 21 and 123 MHz benchmarks.”

Why? Well, as Hammill, notes, if you had a perfect zero wait state memory or cache system, the exact same CoreMark/MHz would be returned regardless of the speed.

“Of course it is to be expected that the cache helps – but does not completely cover the wait states of Flash. However, the small difference between 3.32 CoreMark/Mhz at 123 MHz and 3.38 CoreMark/ MHz illustrates Atmel’s SAM4SD32CAU device has a very good implementation of cache and prefetch,” he explained.


“Indeed, if the Atmel cache and prefetch weren’t optimized, you would expect to see a much larger difference in the CoreMark/MHz scores. I would also like to note that the Atmel SAM4SD32CAU require 5 wait states in flash to run at 123 MHz – but with very slight performance penalty as indicated by the CoreMark/MHz scores.”


CoreMark – written in C – was developed in 2009 by Shay Gal-On at EEMBC and contains implementations of numerous algorithms. These include list processing (find and sort), Matrix (mathematics) manipulation (common matrix operations), state machine (determine if an input stream contains valid numbers) and CRC. Like any benchmark, the EEMBC CoreMark clearly isn’t perfect, although it is certainly a fair assessment of overall performance, as well as the core and memory efficiency of a specific processor.