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Date: 09-07-13

Low-cost, open-source eco for embedded systems developers

When the 8-bit microprocessor 8085 was released in the market in year 1977, engineers around the world have used it very extensively, so much that it became one of the main subject in electronics and related engineering under-graduate studies. Then came another very successful 8-bit microcontroller IC 8051 with peripherals and memory integrated inside the chip. It became so popular, even now engineers develop many hobby projects using 8051. It has so much overused, though latest 32-bit MCUs available in the market, many engineers still use 8051 for the simple reason of availability of lot of study material and reference design (in the form of free circuit-diagram and ready to execute code) available for developing 8051 based applications both offline through text books as well as online via plenty of tutorial websites. The freely available assembly program-code can be tweaked easily for any application. And also the 8051 chip and boards available in most of the electronics components shops on roadside at low price.

But the electronics industry has moved over to 32-bit long time back mainly due to availability of energy efficient processor architecture called RISC from ARM and MIPS. Even the leading microcontroller vendors have developed energy efficient 32 bit processor architecture internally.
The embedded systems developed using 32 bit microcontrollers have that simple advantage of 8-bits vs 32-bits, and so performance improvement is not 4x but is much more.

The engineers who have not used 32-bit environment find it difficult to get jobs in embedded systems applications because 32-bit embedded programming has some learning curve for 8-bit programmers. If not difficult it's going to take some time. Companies prefer design engineers who already have hands-on experience with 32-bit.

One more important reason for moving from 8-bit to 32-bit is, 8-bit MCUs have no more significant price benefit. Why we are saying this is, ST Microelectronics has announced 32-bit ARM Cortex based microcontrollers at a cost down to 32 cents each. Not just lowering of the chip cost, even the associated embedded board/kit for developing 32-bit basic embedded systems costs not more than US$8. And the good news is buying them in India made easy, where ST Microelectronics has tied up with local distributors who can sell them online by accepting Rupee payment for quantities down to single piece. ST's STM32F030 Value Line is based on the ARM Cortex-M0 core running at 48MHz. Unlike similar competing devices, the Value Line enables 8-bit price parity without compromising performance or features, such as a lower core speed or reduced peripherals, claims ST. We know one distributor named Ramakrishna Electrocomponents, who is selling the low cost kit/board STM32F0-Discovery at low price. You can find more at http://www.rkelectro.com/stm32f0-disckit/

If you ask about the software for code-writing, the free IDE is available from Coocox, Keil and even IAR has a free/trial version with some limited features.

ST is providing the complete eco for low-cost open-source 32 bit embedded board development in India right now. Finally its time to say goodbye to 8-bit MCUs. 32-bit MCU outweigh 8-bit microcontroller by offering all the advantages.

The STM32F030 comes with a full set of performing peripherals, such as fast 12-bit ADC, advanced and flexible timers, calendar RTC and communication peripherals such as the I²C, USART and SPI. The program code is easily compatible with higher version of STM32 family and some of the devices are pin compatible.
Other features of 32 cents priced MCU family STM32F030 includes:
----16 to 64 Kbytes of Flash memory
----4 to 8 Kbytes of SRAM with HW parity
----Low power modes: Sleep, Stop, Standby
----4 to 32 MHz crystal oscillator and Internal 40 kHz RC oscillator
----Up to 55 fast I/Os
----1 x 12-bit, 1.0 μs ADC (up to 16 channels) with conversion range: 0 to 3.6 V
----Separate analog supply from 2.4 up to 3.6 V
----Up to 10 timers

We have also published entry level free embedded systems online course based on 32-bit ARM Cortex M0 board. To know more you can visit the page at http://www.eeherald.com/section/design-guide/esmod3b.html

To know more on this low cost ARM Cortex MCUs visit ST website:
http://www.st.com/web/en/resource/technical/document/datasheet/DM00088500.pdf

STM32

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