Tag Archives: Electronics Weekly

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.

Electronics Weekly talks Atmel Studio 6

Atmel’s Studio 6 – which supports a wide range of ARM Cortex-M and AVR microcontrollers – allows applications to be written in C/C++ or assembly code. As Jonathan Page of MSC Gleichmann notes in a recent Electronics Weekly article posted by Richard Wilson, Atmel’s IDE facilitates a “top-down design approach” for embedded systems development.

“As a result it can avoid the need to rewrite significant portions of the code for each port to a different MCU variant or architecture,” Page explains. “With Atmel’s Software Framework (ASF), functions are implemented using a common API that abstracts away the device-specific features to maximize the portability of application-level code. This allows code developed for one target MCU to be recompiled for a new target device.”

More specifically, ASF utilizes a layered architecture with four primary categories: component, service, peripheral and board. The starting point in the ASF design process is at the top with the user application.

“This normally interfaces directly to the component and service modules unless the application needs direct access to any low-level device functions provided by the peripheral and board layers, [as] the service layer takes care of all the MCU’s internal hardware features,” Page continues. “Standardization is key to making ASF easy to use, meaning that modules operate in a consistent way using API calls like module_start(…) and module_stop(…).”

In this way, says Page, ASF enables common code development for 8-bit and 32-bit targets, providing not only a standard software library of functions and peripheral drivers but also enabling third party code libraries and associated tools.

“For example, Atmel Gallery provides a moderated App Store feature for Atmel Studio 6.0 extensions that allows access to free, evaluation and paid-for content from Atmel-certified third party development partners,” Page points out. “Typically up to 50% of the code requirements for a new project can be realized from these libraries, to say nothing of the savings that can be achieved when retargeting an application to another MCU.”

Software frameworks, once the domain of enterprise computing, are now clearly delivering productivity and efficiency benefits in embedded applications.

“The concerns of conservative developers, previously reluctant to move beyond the comfort of familiar IDE tools, can be finally been allayed with a software framework providing a true top-down design solution,” Page adds. “This approach achieves all the benefits of hardware abstraction and design portability across a wide range of target devices while losing none of the performance advantages.”

The full text of the Electronics Weekly article is available here.

Electronics Weekly talks Atmel touch chips

Earlier this week, Atmel expanded its popular maXTouch T lineup of touchscreen controllers with the mXT640T, mXT336T and mXT224T. The new devices offer a comprehensive set of features, supporting next-gen mobile devices such as smartphones, phablets and mid-size tablets with touchscreens ranging from 3.2”-8.3.”

In covering the launch, Steve Bush of Electronics Weekly (EW) noted that there are now 20 DACs taking data off 20 sense wires followed by parallel processing, compared with 18 wires multiplexed onto fewer ADCs before. In addition, having moved to a 130nm process for the new chips, there was also room for Atmel to replace the 8-bit processor with a 32-bit AVR core.

“It is a lot more power efficient and has a lot more processing capability for a lot more intelligence: large finger detection, palm rejection, water rejection and charger noise immunity,” Atmel product marketing manager Tony Xia told Electronics Weekly. “And it can work with xSense, our scheme to use fine copper wires to replace ITO.”

As well as replacing increasingly hard to get ITO (indium tim oxide), xSense reduces sense line impedance, allowing the wire to be charged and read faster. Simply put, with more sense cycles in a fixed time, statistical processing can reduce the effective signal-to-noise ratio.

“Charger noise rejection is actually a combination of better numerical processing, actively hopping the read frequency away from the charger band, and analogue processing,” Xia explained.

In terms of interacting with water and gloves, Xia confirmed there “is no impairment” for condensation with a finger.

“[Similarly, with] wet hands from washing, there is no problem; up to a few drops, there is no false touch,” he stated. “[Plus], a lot of smartphones today won’t work with gloves at all. [In contrast], ours worked well with 20 different gloves we were presented with on one customer visit.”

Lastly, said Xia, passive styluses no longer need to be conductive and in electrical contact with the user.

“We tried it with a cheap mechanical pencil with an 0.5mm lead and it worked,” he added.