Texas Instruments has rolled out a line of 25-cent, 16-bit microcontrollers that could go head-to-head with 8-bit devices in the low end of the $13-billion-a-year MCU market.
The company says the new devices will offer 10 times as much MIPS (millions of instructions per second) throughput as low-end 8-bit products and will use one-tenth as much standby power for approximately the same price. Known as the MSP430 Value Line, the new devices could see action in lighting applications, as well as in safety and security, touch pads, consumer electronics, intelligent sensors, exercise equipment and personal health devices.
"The perception and, to some extent, the reality, is that 16-bit microcontrollers have just been too expensive," says VC Kumar, MSP430 MCU product marketing manager for TI. "In cost-sensitive applications, people have been willing to compromise performance for the sake of price."
TI says the new products are part of an MCU roadmap, which calls for the company to introduce 100 new MCUs by the middle of 2011. The roadmap will provide a portfolio of devices with different memory, peripheral and packaging configurations. The new devices, designated MSP430G2xx, will be code-compatible across the entire line of TI's well-known MSP430 microcontroller platform.
TI engineers believe the low power consumption and cost of the new devices will appeal to engineers who design portable products. The MSP430G2xx products will offer five power modes, including ultra-low standby current draw of 0.4 µA.
"Traditionally, power has been one of the areas that suffered when you looked in the low-cost 8-bit space," Kumar says. "That's not the case here."
Kumar believes that devices' scalability will also appeal to engineers whose product portfolio spans both the high and low ends of the market. TI's new products, he says, enable engineers to easily switch to higher-level MCUs with better performance. For those who want to do the opposite — moving down from the high end — they can do it and still get true 16-MIPS operation.
"The message that we're trying to convey is that you don't have to settle for compromise on issues such as performance or scalability," Kumar says. "We're essentially saying, 'Take cost off the table. These devices will give you the performance you need without having to compromise.'"
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