Top Nine Considerations When Evaluating Microcontrollers
It’s hard to imagine modern life without touchscreen displays, televisions, washing machines, coffee makers, remote controls and connected devices of all types. Microcontroller units (MCUs) make these modern necessities possible by managing their operations.
Countless MCU options on the market make determining the best solution for a given application challenging. Here are nine considerations to help reduce some of the guesswork and complexity.
Security designs should account for potential malicious activity enacted not only through access via a connection to the outside world, but also through physical means by way of bad actors. Hackers not only seek to gain control or impair devices, they also seek to obtain user data recorded and transmitted by the device. A thorough review of security options should include shield layers, secure provisioning hardware, memory protection units, cryptographic bootloaders, and accelerators.
The majority of MCU application programming runs off ARM, MIPS and X86 CPUs. Proper planning ensures designers select the right MCU and corresponding processor to deliver necessary device and system performance now and in the future. MCU performance can be directly tied to processor type and speed, I/O speed and memory. Other factors that can boost performance on connected MCUs include integrating Ethernet MAC with individual DMA to increase the speed of data throughput.
Understand the relationships among memory, performance and the processor. When evaluating MCUs, don’t be misled by a high-performance processor that has weak memory specifications. On paper, a powerful processor may look like a strong selling point. Without sufficient memory support, performance will be greatly impaired.
Choosing a microcontroller family based on shared architecture provides for compatibility of features, pins, and even programming. This enables easier scalability and code reuse from one device to another with fewer programming headaches and compatibility issues. This also eases some of the design challenges in configurations that require multiple microcontrollers working in tandem to complete complex tasks. These efficiencies speed time to market and value.
Keep an eye on costs and maximize efficiencies when bringing a solution to market. There’s no sense building a prototype with a cost-prohibitive board that could price a solution out of the market. Pay attention to licensing fees, too. Some MCU manufacturers charge licensing fees for device drivers.
6. Communication capabilities
Factoring in communication support for a microcontroller is critical in the planning stages of the design process. How will your device communicate with the application? What type of data will the device send, receive and to where? Will there be a need to interact with other local devices? What communication methods and protocols best meet the requirements of the application: a direct Ethernet connection, USB, Bluetooth, Bluetooth mesh, Thread, 802.15.4, ANT, 2.4Ghz, 4G, 5G or a combination?
7. Power consumption requirements
Power requirements are another major concern. A personal healthcare device will require maximum efficiency as it draws power from a small coin battery. The 48-volt standard now being widely adopted in electric vehicles is enabling more robust architecture in transportation systems. Generally, the smaller the microcontroller packaging, the more energy efficient the MCU can be.
8. Development tools/community support
Working with microcontrollers can be both rewarding and challenging. Explore any comprehensive development support provided by the manufacturer and online forums like StackOverflow and Reddit. They feature shared knowledge from the development community. A wealth of helpful personal blogs exist online.
Packaging options can number in the hundreds, but the four main criteria for selection are: type, dimensions, pin pitch and pin count. Packaging considerations include power supply and environmental concerns: temperature, humidity, radiation and shock extremes. Consider manufacturing process like ease of soldering and ease of assembly with other components when creating the finished product.
Choosing the right microcontroller for your next innovation optimizes efficiency, achieves the best user experience and maximizes profit potential. To get there, connect with a trusted global technology partners Avnet and Renesas to enable you to better focus valuable resources on intellectual property innovation and other areas that deliver a strong competitive edge. Together, we provide the support needed to successfully differentiate your product offerings, accelerate your time to market and improve business outcomes.
With a century of success at our foundation, Avnet can guide you through the challenges of developing and delivering new technology at any — or every — phase of your journey. Our experts support your innovation, turn your challenges into opportunities, and build the right solutions for your success. Make your vision a reality and reach further with Avnet as your single trusted partner.