Microchip and the Evolution of 32-bit: Powering Modern IoT

Advances in the new world of IoT are happening continuously. Even as one new technology arrives, other solutions that improve upon it or hope to replace it with something better are close behind.

People expect more from IoT all the time. Designers of modern IoT applications now must contend with calls for increasingly complex functionality, including rich interaction and display, varied input options, and faster performance and responsiveness. Similarly, IoT applications are calling for more rugged solutions, like sensor based measurement designs, that have self-health assessment capabilities, can handle internal data, and can overall better stand on their own for long periods of time while communicating with a central hub through a variety of channels. Solutions require capabilities compatible with the latest protocols and standards, they have become more versatile, and at the core of each is a continuous drive for optimized power.

The continual debate within IoT design has traditionally been between 8-bit and 32-bit MCUs, but in the modern era of IoT, simply choosing one over the other for perceived benefits misses the point. The question is no longer which MCU is better? The question instead has become which MCU is the right tool for my challenge?

Many embedded tasks used to be handled by the tried and true 8-bit MCUs, but as applications became more complex and manufacturers sought solutions that could provide increased functionality, engineers found that the 8-bit wasn’t always the right tool for the job. 8-bit solutions can require more engineering effort and external components to increase functionality, and in some cases they simply aren’t up to the task of modern IoT implementations. Which isn’t surprising, considering what users now expect.

Among other functions, users now expect the following:

● Higher Clock Speeds - More cycles per second allows for more overall computational power. When a system can respond faster, users don’t have to wait for it to catch up with them. IoT applications are increasingly calling for “real-time data”, the measurements of inputs as they happen, to allow for adjustments on the fly that reduce waste and make systems more efficient. Higher clock speeds allow that to happen.

● Greater Productivity Per Cycle - More efficient use of the processing cycles allows for less time spent actively running. By letting the processor sleep more the power usage impact is greatly reduced, so while a 32-bit solution may take more power per MHz it also spends more time in a passive mode. Given an equivalent task, it’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion that a 32-bit solution will expend more power than an 8-bit. In reality their power expenditures might be on par.

● Better Math Functionality – The larger registers on 32-bit solutions can simplify math operations while allowing for more tools that bring on complex math for higher accuracy calculations. 

● More Memory - 32-bit addressing enables much more external memory, up to 4GB, and in many cases 32-bit solutions have more on board memory as well, reducing the need for external hardware.

● More Peripherals – Core Independent Peripherals are a great way to offload processes from the core while increasing functionality. These CIPs can enable increased functionality beyond even what a 32-bit MCU would allow, and many are geared specifically for IoT applications with functions in intelligent analog, safety and monitoring, and wireless communications.
● Powerful Development Platforms – The increased focus on 32-bit MCUs has led to calls for tools to better write and optimize code using the 32-bit system. Shared platforms that allow for coders to collaborate and debug as a community and that provide solid prototyping resources can quicken time-to-market and increase innovation.

● Tools to Help Transition - Applications that used to be the realm of 8-bit have steadily been replaced by 32-bit systems. The next generation of engineers will be learning primarily 32-bit systems, meaning that the workforce will be transitioning there as well.

The PIC32MZ from Microchip was specifically designed to address these prominent IoT concerns. 2MB of embedded flash allows for multiple communication stacks to reside inside of the MCU. This reduces the need for additional memory on the board and offers more functionality by giving designers fast memory to work with close to the processor without having to add another chip.

The PIC32MZ takes design optimization to the application development layer as well. Microchip’s MPLAB software program allows designers to utilize software stacks for WiFi, Ethernet, USB and Bluetooth application development in a single integrated environment to get their connectivity solutions to the IoT market faster. MPLAB also has tools to support the development of graphics firmware, which the PIC32MZ solution can easily support—up to 4.3” WQVGA without an external controller. And there’s good news for engineers looking to incorporate analog measurements into their connected design: a high speed 12-bit ADC module supporting up to 18MSPS combined throughput finally addresses one of the issues many designers have with moving to a 32-bit MCU—the lack of good analog interfacing.

0816 Microchip and the Evolution of 32 bit Image 1

Booming connectivity in IoT applications has opened the field up to increased security threats that can now compromise entire systems. Microchip’s Hardware Crypto Engine addresses the ever evolving security needs of modern IoT applications by allowing security functions to execute in the hardware module and reducing software overhead. This way, encryption, decryption, and authentication can execute much more quickly without a large performance impact on the solution itself. An embedded SSL library allows for industry standard security in establishing an encrypted link.

At a time when the demand for IoT connected solutions has never been higher, more and more is expected from the designs themselves. Solutions need to be versatile, scalable, powerful, and secure. The PIC32MZ offers up the horsepower required for customers to develop a secure and connected, graphics based application in a small form factor MCU product. The large library of software supported in Microchip’s MPLAB® Harmony facilitates innovation and scalability, and their array of easy to use hardware development boards helps engineers get up and running fast.


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