Microchip Rolls New Family of MIPS-Based 32-bit MCUs

19 November 2013

Microchip Technology Inc. this week launched a new family of MIPS-based 32-bit microcontrollers for embedded applications, claiming best-in-class performance and code density. The company also rolled out a new 32-bit microcontroller firmware development framework designed to simplify code development on the company's PIC32 microcontrollers.

The new PIC32MZ Embedded Connectivity family includes 24 microcontrollers offering performance of up to 330 DMIPS and 3.28 CoreMarks/MHz, as well up to 2 MB of live-update flash, 512 KB of RAM and a host of connectivity peripherals, Microchip said, including a 10/100 Ethernet MAC, Hi-Speed USB MAC/PHY and dual CAN ports. The devices also feature a full-featured hardware crypto engine and code density that Microchip claims is 30 percent better than competitors.

PIC32MZ is also Microchip's first MCU to employ the MIPS microAptiv core from Imagination Technologies. The microAptiv core adds 159 new DSP instructions said to enable the execution of DSP algorithms at up to 75 percent fewer cycles than the Microchip's previous generation PIC32MX families. This core also provides the microMIPS instruction-set architecture, said to improve code density while operating at near full rate.

While all other leading microcontroller vendors offer parts based on the ARM architecture, Microchip has bucked the trend, choosing to stick with the MIPS architecture for its 32-bit parts. MIPS is routinely given high marks in many categories by embedded system designers, but ARM has a clear cut advantage in its proliferation and ecosystem.

According to Tom Hackenberg, a senior analyst for embedded processors at IHS, Microchip has fared well by sticking with the MIPS core, which he said offers a very elegant and high-performing solution. Hackenberg added that there had been some question as to whether Imagination would continue to support the MIPS technology after acquiring it last year. On an IP core licensing basis, MIPS continues to lose market share to ARM, he said

But Hackenberg Imagination clearly plans to continue supporting the technology. "My only concern is whether Imagination can market it well enough and build up the ecosystem to compete with the ecosystem of ARM," Hackenberg said.

Many embedded software vendors tend to optimize their products to run on the ARM architecture due to its proliferation in the market, Hackenberg said. Some of them also tweak their code to make it run more efficiently on MIPS, he said, but they are only going to go to that effort if they see a compelling reason. "Does [MIPS] have legs? I think it does, but the proof is really going to have to come from Imagination to really push and market this architecture," Hackenberg said. "They need to offer real examples of why it's a better architecture. If a designer wants to support both architectures, there has to be a very compelling reason, because it's a lot of overhead."

Hackenburg noted that Microchip moved to fourth place in microcontroller sales last year, up from sixth place in 2011. In 2012 Microchip trailed only Renesas, Freescale and Infineon in microcontroller sales. Hackenberg said it's too early to rank the vendors on 2013 sales, but said it's possible Microchip could move ahead of Infineon.

"Microchip has been doing 32-bit microcontrollers for a while now," Hackenberg said. "They've gained significant market share in the industry using the MIPS architecture, which they have been using for quite some time."

Hackenberg was intrigued by the inclusion in eight of the 24 PIC32MZ MCUs of a full-featured crypto engine, which includes a random number generator for data encryption and decryption and authentication. He noted that it is the type of security usually reserved for so-called secure MCUs. "It's interesting to see that type of crypto engine incorporated in a high-performance microcontroller that is designed to do other things," Hackenberg said.

The first 12 members of the PIC32MZ family are expected to be sampling and entering volume production next month, according to Microchip. The remaining 12 are expected to become available at various dates through May 2014, the company said. Twelve of the 24 MCUs will feature 1 MB of flash, with the other 12 offering 2 MBs of flash, according to the company. Pricing starts at $6.68 each in 10,000-unit quantities.

Microchip also announced the availability of four new PIC32MZ development tools. The complete, turn-key PIC32MZ EC Starter Kit costs $119, and comes in two flavors to support family members with the integrated crypto engine and those without, the company said. A Multimedia Expansion Board II is available at an introductory rate of $299 for the first six months can be used with either Starter Kit to develop graphics HMI, connectivity and audio applications, the company said. More information on these and other development tools is available on Microchip's website.

The 32-bit microcontroller firmware developer framework launched by Microchip, known as MPLAB Harmony, is billed as the first to integrate the licensing, resale and support of both Microchip and third-party middleware, drivers, libraries and real-time operating systems. The goal is to enable developers to simplify their PIC32 MCU code development process by reducing common integration bugs, thus accelerating time to market. MPLAB Harmony currently includes third-party offerings from Express Logic, FreeRTOS, InterNiche, WITTENSTEIN High Integrity Systems and wolfSSL, and the company plans to add more in the future.

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