Development Picks Up The Pace with PIC® Microcontrollers

When considering a microcontroller for your system’s hardware design, many factors must be considered. Although specifications and performance metrics are important, they only tell part of the story.

Any hardware design engineer can attest that ease of development, scalability, and excellent engineering support are invaluable to the successful release of any microcontroller (MCU)-based product. Microchip addresses these concerns through shared peripheral support across the PIC MCU product family, so code becomes more reusable. Development is also simplified via a unified and completely free MPLAB® Integrated Development Environment (IDE) which supports all PIC MCUs. And of course any PIC MCU also comes along with a host of technical documentation, software examples, hardware reference designs, and highly responsive customer support.

Microchip is a leader in the microcontroller market, offering a complete range of microcontroller devices. The 8-bit MCU families include the PIC10, PIC12, PIC16, and PIC18 series of MCUs. The 16-bit families include PIC24 MCUs and dsPIC33 Digital Signal Controllers (DSCs). The 32-bit PIC32 family offers the highest performance and the largest integrated memories in the PIC product line 8-bit MCUs have a pin count ranging from 6 to 100 pins, 16-bit MCUs have a pin count ranging from 14 to 144 pins, and 32-bit MCUs have a pin count ranging from 28 to 144 pins. Performance scales from a maximum of 16 MIPS in 8-bit MCUs, through a maximum of 70 MIPS in 16-bit MCUs, up to a maximum of 330 DMIPS for 32-bit MCUs. Integrated Flash (non-volatile) memory capacity varies similarly, with a range of 0.5-128KB for 8-bit, a range of 4-1024KB for 16-bit, and a range of 16KB to 2MB for 32-bit MCUs.

Microchip PIC MCUs offer the widest operating ranges available. The supply voltage input can range from 1.8V to 5.5V. Some device families support an ambient temperature of up to 150°C. Additionally, the eXtreme Low Power (XLP) 8-bit and 16-bit PIC MCUs offer industry-leading power consumption performance over a full range of package sizes. Run currents start at only 30 µA/MHz (8-bit) and 150 µA/MHz (16-bit), while sleep currents are as low as 9 nA. If outright performance is the goal, the Microchip 16-bit and 32-bit PIC MCU families offer the industry’s highest performance. If small form factors are paramount, packaged parts as small as the 8-pin 2 × 3 DFN are available. Microchip also continues to improve its product offerings: since 2009, over 140 new PIC MCUs have been added to the product portfolio, offering a range of industry-critical technologies such as integrated security engines, advanced analog capabilities and Core Independent Peripherals (CIP). Low-cost options abound, with MCUs supporting USB and 192-pixel segmented display drivers available for less than $1 (in quantity).

One key benefit of the Microchip PIC MCU ecosystem is the strong scalability between microcontroller families. Some integrated peripherals are available across the entire portfolio, such as Capture/Compare/PWM, timers, comparators, I2C, SPI, UART and touch sensing. Beginning with the 8-bit PIC16 MCU family, peripheral support is available for Intelligent Analog (Op Amp, DAC, and 12-bit ADC), USB, motor control, and segmented LCD. PIC18 devices and above support the CAN bus, and PIC24 devices and above also support integrated graphics drivers. Ethernet support is available on the PIC18 and PIC32 MCU families. These integrated peripherals do more than reduce CPU overhead, lower bill-of-materials (BOM) cost, and enable smaller system PCB sizes.

Because the peripheral support is shared amongst many of the PIC MCU families, there is reduced development overhead. In addition, many PIC MCU families share pinout/package footprints.

Therefore, the development code doesn’t need to change when interchanging PIC MCU designs. As a result, the system architect can spend less time worrying about the selection of the specific PIC MCU at the onset of the design. When more specifics are known about the product later in the design cycle, the microcontroller can easily be scaled without losing development effort. MCUs with the same pinout/footprint can even be scaled without impacting PCB layout.

As alluded to earlier, hardware specifications alone don’t win over the hardware/system design engineer. So perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of Microchip PIC MCUs over alternative solutions is their shared development environment. In fact, every MCU within Microchip’s expansive product portfolio (900+ components) is supported by the free MPLAB IDE. The latest version, known as MPLAB X IDE, is now based on the open-source NetBeans platform. It includes cross-platform support for Mac OS X®, Linux® and Microsoft Windows® operating system software. MPLAB X IDE also includes new features such as “one click” for automatically making, programming and running/debugging code on the PIC MCU, support for multiple compiler versions/debug tool versions, and improvements to the user interface of the MPLAB GUI.

MPLAB X IDE can be used for project management, code development, MCU programming and also code debugging. It not only provides a single IDE for development and debug of all Microchip PIC MCUs, but also provides a wide range of standard code libraries, including TCP/IP stacks and USB drivers. Many compilers are supported, including MPLAB XC8 (C compiler for 8-bit PIC devices), MPLAB XC16 (C compiler for 16-bit PIC devices), and MPLAB XC32 (C/C++ compiler for 32-bit devices). The MPLAB IDE also is supported by many third-party devices (PICAXE, etc.). In essence, this means code is easily portable between MCUs, reducing the amount of new code that must be developed and enabling the reuse of existing code.

Excellent support is a necessity for timely product deployment. Microchip has hundreds of highly trained application engineers on staff, who can assist in debugging technical issues as well as provide insight into the more advanced features within the ecosystem of MCUs and software tools. Microchip and their global distribution network offers support to customers of all sizes. In addition, PIC MCU customers have access to numerous reference designs and low-cost development boards for rapid product prototyping. Many example software programs are available for becoming familiar with MPLAB X IDE. Microchip also offers extensive technical documentation and application notes for thorough assistance with implementing PIC MCU features and capabilities. Even more assistance is available through Microchip’s comprehensive training resources, which include web seminars, hands-on training sessions, “lunch & learns”, and customer conferences. Microchip’s online forums provide a convenient and simple way for individuals to interact with the large, global community of over 60,000+ engineers and developers using PIC MCUs in their own systems.

As of 2015, the total embedded systems market continues to grow. Pre-existing markets such as energy meters and monitoring, lighting, security, automotive, and smartphone accessories are still expanding. New markets such as medical instruments and Internet of Things (IoT) devices promise even more applications for embedded systems. Meeting the demand for such a wide variety of embedded system designs will require companies to leverage internal software and hardware development across multiple different product lines. Engineering and development resources must be used efficiently for reduced product time-to-market.   Selecting Microchip PIC MCUs for your system design provides you with industry-leading hardware performance, scalability due to pin and code compatibility, and easier, platform-independent code development via the free MPLAB IDE which supports all Microchip MCUs. As a result, you will benefit from easier design-in and a more effective use of development resources, which will significantly speed your product’s time to market.