Future Electronics – Spoilt for choice: MCU users now have even more options for balancing performance, power and features


Today, the sheer range of processor and microcontroller options available to the embedded developer is extraordinary. In the 32-bit MCU market, the choice stretches from the smallest NXP Semiconductors Kinetis KL02, an MCU based on the ARM® Cortex®-M0+ core which measures just 2.0mm x 1.9mm, up to the impressive power of the Atmel® SAM V7 series from Microchip, which runs at a clock speed of 300MHz, or the STM32F769 from STMicroelectronics, which can drive an XGA-resolution TFT LCD screen, as shown on page 22.

And moving beyond the MCU market, the high-speed processors now available to embedded developers provide breathtaking performance: for instance, the 64-bit LS20xx series from NXP features as many as eight ARM Cortex-A72 cores each running at a clock speed of up to 2.2GHz.

While power-saving is a critical requirement for battery-operated systems, designers have to balance this with increasing demand for functionality in the new generation of Internet of Things (IoT) equipment. In sensor hubs, for instance, MCUs such as the NXP LPC54xx family meet this need by combining a Cortex-M4 core for high-speed processing with a low-power Cortex-M0+ core for always-on sensor monitoring, as shown on page 24.

Another example of an asymmetrical architecture is the i.MX 7 family from NXP, which combines a high-speed Cortex-A7 processor with a Cortex-M4 MCU core for heterogeneous processing, making it ideal for applications requiring rich graphics alongside real-time control. The i.MX 7 offers high-speed connectivity, multiple memory options and both serial and parallel camera and display interfaces. The IoT is also generating demand for real-time data analysis at the network edge. Here, NXP’s QorIQ LS1088 family, which features up to eight ARM Cortex-A53 cores in a single chip, is perfectly suited for applications such as intelligent edge access and wireless access points.

To help users take advantage of the advanced functionality available in increasingly complex devices, MCU manufacturers continue to extend and develop their design tools offerings. ST’s STM32CubeMX, on page 21, for instance, uses an intuitive graphical software-configuration wizard to generate initialising C code as well as a graphical hardware abstraction layer for code portability. Microchip with its MPLAB Harmony platform, NXP with its LPCXpressoTM and Kinetis® Design studio and Cypress’s PSoC® CreatorTM design environment all provide a rich set of capabilities for rapid system development.

Indeed, with increasing provision for application-focussed stacks and ports to the FreeRTOSTM operating system, MCU manufacturers are becoming end-to-end system providers. Developers are also starting to access MCU tools through the cloud – the ARM mbedTM IoT Device Platform is an example of this emerging trend.

The team of ARM Certified Engineers at Future Electronics is extremely well qualified to support system designers through the selection and development process for all the devices highlighted in this issue of FTM. Contact them through your local branch or by e-mailing info@my-ftm.com.