Last month, Infineon introduced the XMC4000 series of microcontrollers based on the ARM Cortex-M4 processor core augmented with a floating-point unit. (Note: Don’t confuse the Infineon XMC4000 series with the NXP LPC4000 series of microcontrollers based on the ARM Cortex-M4 processor core—see “Asymmetric, dual-core NXP LPC4300 microcontrollers split tasks between ARM Cortex-M4 and -M0 cores, cost $3.75 and up”.)
Infineon is positioning the XMC4000 microcontroller family between its long-lived 16-bit XE166 microcontroller family and its 32-bit TriCore microcontroller family, based on the proprietary Infineon TriCore processor. Compared to the XE166 family, the new XMC4000 microcontroller family brings higher clock frequencies (80 to 180MHz), a larger address space, and more on-chip peripherals. The on-chip peripheral strategy is tied to the three target markets for these devices: control of industrial electric drives (big motors), power and energy generation and conversion, and factory automation. Together, Infineon figures that these three markets represent more than a billion dollars worth of sales.
The selected target applications require a couple of key characteristics. The first is the ability to run advanced control algorithms that are needed to get more efficiency from motors and power-conversion circuitry, which Infineon believes will be aided by better/faster A/D and D/A converters coupled to more precise on-chip timers. The objective is to be able to run complex control algorithms fast enough to replace mechanical linkages and hard-wired electronics with software-driven control.
The second required characteristic, from Infineon’s viewpoint, is a broadened ability to communicate via industry-standard protocols such as USB and Ethernet plus the ability to control standard internal and external peripheral devices using protocols that include CAN, SPI, I2C, and the SD card interface.
These two characteristics invoke a third required element: the ability to better deal with the software complexity that accompanies more complex algorithms and more advanced peripherals. Here, the ARM Cortex-M4 core no doubt helps by invoking a growing ecosystem of software tools, protocol stacks, and existing applications that have already been written and—perhaps most important—debugged. In addition, Infineon has upgraded its existing DAVE software development environment to work with the new XMC4000 series microcontrollers. The new DAVE 3 development environment for the XMC4000 series includes the usual software tools and an automatic code generator with a graphical front end.
The Infineon XMC4000 family is yet one more example of how microcontrollers are rushing to fill application niches that previously required SoCs to meet performance goals. It’s also a clear example of how the applications now solidly drive the definition of silicon. Unit prices for members of the Infineon XMC4000 microcontroller family are expected to run between 1 and 7 Euro. For that amount of money, you will get a 32-bit processor core, 64Kbytes to 2.5Mbytes of on-chip Flash memory, 20 to 512 Kbytes of RAM, and an assortment of peripheral devices including I/O controllers, A/D and D/A converters, and timers. Versions of the parts will be qualified to operate at 125 °C. That means that you will need more justification than ever to initiate an SoC design in this application realm. This is the sort of thing we can now expect from Moore’s Law: standard devices with enough programmability to supplant tailored SoCs at the low end.
Infineon plans to ship samples of the first member of this microcontroller family, the XMC4500, along with evaluation kits and the DAVE 3 development environment next month. Volume production of the XMC4500 device is scheduled for May and samples of other microcontrollers in the family are expected in Q4, 2012.
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