Analog Angle Article

Microcontroller is driven by low-voltage/power/size imperative

Austin, Texas— Silicon Labs has entered the microcontroller market by combining advanced converter-integration technology with cutting-edge, transistor-level power-management technology, yielding an IC which operates at a record-low 0.9 V and with sleep-mode current of 50 nA (potato and lemon-juice batteries welcome!). The company is targeting portable, remote, and unattended product applications, at a price point of $2, and with first devices in the family shipping now.

The announcement comes in the wake of a similar announcement in terms of converter integration at ISSCC, where TI and MIT announced their progress on that front, though no product announcement dates were made, see “TI, MIT team to design ultra-low voltage chip,” EE Times , February 2, 2008.

The C8051F9xx family of processor system-on-a-chip devices can operate from a single-cell battery, via its internal boost converter. The vendor maintains that this microcontroller (MCU) is the lowest operating-voltage one available on the market, with topology, geometry, architecture, and features which are optimized and coordinated to use miniscule power at ultralow voltage, without sacrificing performance or functionality.

Time from sleep-mode wake-up to initiating an A/D conversion, using the internal 10-bit, 300-ksps converter, is two μsec, in part due to the fast wake-up of its voltage reference. The 8051-compatible 8-bit microcontroller operates at 25 MIPS and has an active-mode current drain as low as 170 μA/MHz.

Internal memory includes 32 or 64 kB of flash memory and 4 kB of RAM, all squeezed into a package as small as 4×4 mm. Since many of the target applications require multiple analog inputs, the single-ended ADC supports up to 23 channels. To minimize EMI issues, the 24.5 MHz oscillator can be operated in a spread-spectrum mode. There are four general-purpose timers, with 16-bit count. As well as a programmable counter/timer array with three capture modes, and a watchdog timer. I/O also includes SMBus, I2 C, Enhanced UART, and two SPI interfaces. To facilitate touch-sense inputs, the device has two voltage comparators which work in conjunction with the analog inputs. Other internal features are a 6-bit programmable current reference and a temperature sensor.

Development tools include a kit with an integrated development environment, target board, cables, and power supply. The GUI-based system also includes a power-estimation tool which provides insight into battery-discharge characteristics versus MCU operation, and an editable spreadsheet which allows designers t optimize power and performance tradeoffs. In addition, a Toolstick daughter card and base adapter is available for basic evaluation.

The microcontroller, operates form 0.9 to 1.8 V, or 1.8 to 3.6 V over the -40 to +85° C temperature range. There are a variety of package options, including 24/32-lead QFN and LQFP.

Price and availability: The first members of the C8051F9xx are available now, with prices starting at $1.99 (10,000 pieces). The Development kit is $99, and the Toolstick daughter card is $17.90.

For more information: Silicon Laboratories Inc,

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