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General-Purpose MCUs

Across a number of microcontroller applications, ARM is seeing an increased need for more performance, either due to increased algorithm complexity, integration of multiple, discrete MCU systems into a single entity or the inclusion of wireless/wired connectivity. ARM's focus on minimizing system cost is blurring the traditional "8-bit MCU is for low cost, 32-bit MCU is for performance" point of view. The rapid growth of the 32-bit controller market, coupled with ARM efforts to standardize low level software libraries further accelerates the availability of software libraries optimized for use on the Cortex-M family of embedded processors, reducing the learning curve for new microcontroller developers and improving time to market for new devices.
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Three major trends are shaping the MCU space

  • Algorithms are increasing in complexity. For example, the desire to make motors more power efficient pushes up the CPU performance requirements
  • Multiple subsystems are being consolidated into a single electronics board, to reduce system cost, footprint and power
  • Platforms that were once closed "black box" systems are starting to include wired and/or wireless connectivity. This puts further pressures on processor performance requirements and provides additional challenges to the system designer to ensure high degrees of system security/reliability and embed enough latent performance to support future services that maybe delivered across the network to deployed platforms

The combination of these three factors has driven growth in the 32-bit MCU market over the past few years at a rate that outpaces by far the growth of the MCU market as a whole.


Over the past few years, ARM has invested significant engineering resources to develop a broad portfolio of processor cores. This spectrum allows our silicon partners to select the processor core that best fits their requirements, from the size optimized Cortex-M0+ that offers the benefits of a 32-bit MCU with minimal incremental cost over an 8-bit MCU, through the Cortex-M4 with DSP and (optional floating point unit) that pushes the performance envelope compared to traditional MCUs.

With multiple billions of units now shipped and the Cortex-M technology licensed nearly 200 times, the processor architecture is broadly understood by software developers, board designers and is well supported by third party companies. This drives increased choice, lower development costs and aggressive system pricing.

OEMs are looking to invest in one architecture and then leverage that investment as broadly across their portfolio of systems for as long into the future as possible. The diverse set of silicon devices, based on a standard MCU processor core enables OEM customers to select the device and vendor that best addresses their requirements, safe in the knowledge that they are not locked into a particular supplier.

The integration of a 32-bit processor can seem like a daunting task for companies with a history designing or utilizing 8-bit microcontrollers or indeed that have only designed analog circuits in the past. ARM provides a number of physical IP packages, optimized for use at the traditional process nodes used for microcontrollers including 180nm, 90nm and below, that simplify the design of the silicon chip.


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