In some ways, 16-bit architectures have turned into the forgotten stepchildren of the microcontroller world. When planning strategies, some of the world's biggest microcontroller makers have simply stepped directly from 8-bit to 32-bit, presumably because they believe there's too much overlap between the three markets.
Not so for Microchip Technologies, Inc. and Texas Instruments, which over the past 60 days have rolled out substantial new 16-bit product lines. Two weeks ago, Microchip announced 49 new microcontrollers and digital signal controllers, all of which are based on 16-bit architectures. And on August 30th, Texas Instruments made a similar unveiling, announcing plans to add over 50 new 16-bit devices over the next 18 months.
"There's a notion in the market place that 16-bit is being passed over and everyone's going to 32-bit," notes a Microchip spokesman. "But our latest introductions definitely counter that notion."
Indeed, there's good reason to believe that 16-bit is alive and well. Recent statistics from market watchers Gartner Dataquest, WSTS (World Semiconductor Trade Statistics), and Forward Concepts indicate strong market growth for 16-bit. From 2003 to 2004, they say, 16-bit grew 21 percent, approaching the 8-bit market in overall size.
"By next year at this time, we expect the 16-bit market to top $5 billion a year," says Sumit Mitra, vice president of Microchip Technologies Digital Signal Controller Division. "It's still a good market to be in."
TI bets on low-power designs
The low-cost of TI's MSP430 ultra-low power microcontroller platform makes it a candidate for applications moving up from 8-bit to 16-bit, say TI engineers.
"It's definitely a 16-bit RISC architecture, but because of its cost, the MPS430 is competing directly against the 8-bit market in some cases," notes Mark Buccini, marketing director for TI's Advanced Embedded Controller Group.
The 14-pin, 16-MIPS MSP430F20 (one member of the MSP430 family), for example, cost $0.49 per 100,000 units, while operating at an active current of just 200 µA/MIPS.
All members of the MSP430 platform, however, are designed for low-power usage. TI engineers say that devices offer better battery utilization characteristics and longer standby, enabling them to conserve power in high-performance products.
The company says it's targeting the new technology at metering systems and handheld monitors, such as blood glucose monitors, as well as at a host of other applications. For more information about TI's MSP430, go tohttp://rbi.ims.ca/4399-522.
Microchip aims for performance
To meet the demand for 16-bit architectures, Microchip Technologies is rolling out three 16-bit families: the low-end PIC24F; the more powerful PIC24H; and the dsPIC33 digital signal controller. Pricing for the PIC24F starts at $4.55 in quantities of 10,000, while the PIC24H starts at $5.16, and the dsPIC33 begins at $5.43.
For its PIC24 family, Microchip is unveiling 22 devices, offering up to 40 MIPS performance, 16 Kbytes of RAM, and 256 Kbytes of Flash. Similarly, the company's dsPIC33 operates at 40 MIPS with 64 to 256 Kbytes of Flash.
Microchip, which has made its name in the marketplace with its 8-bit microcontrollers, says it expects some of its 16-bit customers to move up from the 8-bit world.
"Some grassroots applications, such as home security systems, are naturally going to migrate up to 16-bit over time," notes Sumit Mitra, vice president of the Digital Signal Controller Division at Microchip. "If you're running out of memory or performance, it's a natural step up." For more information on Microchip's PIC24 family and dsPIC33 family, go to http://rbi.ims.ca/4399-523.