feature article
Subscribe Now

Kicking the CAN with Microchip MIPS

Microchip users, it’s time for your big-boy pants.

The company has launched a new 32-bit chip that tops its range of ubiquitous microcontrollers. It’s got grown-up features that could entice the company’s legions of 8-bit and 16-bit users to move up into the 32-bit world and experience life in the semi-big leagues.

“Thirty-two bits for 5 bucks” could be the headline here, as the new chips combine a 32-bit MIPS M4K core – a processor for real men—with an average price of $5. As usual for Microchip, the device is crammed to overflowing with peripherals and interfaces for most conceivable applications. In this case, the key gee-whiz features are CAN (controller-area network), 10/100 Ethernet, and USB.

There are really multiple chips in the new range, and they come in three flavors: the MX5, MX6, and MX7. The MX5 has CAN, the MX6 has Ethernet, and the MX7 has both. They all have quite a bit of I/O in addition, including USB, 512K of flash, 128K of SRAM, five I2C ports, six UARTs, four SPI interfaces, a bunch of timers, two analog comparators, and more. I like that the USB interfaces can do host mode, device mode, and on-the-go (OTG) mode. OTG is particularly useful because you can do peer-to-peer USB connections instead of going through a PC or USB hub. It turns USB into a convenient high-speed connection between any two devices. 

Recognizing that most of its customers are probably new to Ethernet, Microchip supplies the TCP/IP stack software for free. In fact, you get two stacks (a lightweight version and a more fully featured version), both in source code. Object code would be pointless, since Microchip doesn’t know what operating system you might be using. Same goes for the USB drivers, which can be daunting if you’ve never written USB code before.

Most of these peripherals have shown up on various Microchip chips before, but never in the high-end PIC32 family. As such, the new chips are kinda, sorta compatible with lesser PIC chips, in the sense that the peripherals and their drivers are the same, and (in some cases) the new chips are pin-compatible with some existing chips. That doesn’t mean you can uproot your old 8-bit PIC device and replace it with one of these, but it’s nice that Microchip made the effort to preserve as much compatibility as it could.

MIPS Ahoy!

What sets these processors apart is that they’re based on the he-man MIPS M4K 32-bit processor. That’s a big deal for Microchip, a company that made its name supplying dirt-cheap 8- and 16-bit microcontrollers to the masses. The strategy has worked extremely well for the company, which has moved up the sales charts for years and now ranks among the world’s biggest chip vendors. The only thing it needed was a range-topping 32-bit family, but there was no way to extend the 16-bit architecture to 32 bits.

Cue MIPS, the second most-popular 32-bit architecture after ARM. Although MIPS isn’t binary compatible with Microchip’s other controllers, it does use the same development tools, so it looks the same to programmers. Unless you peek under the hood at the object code, it appears that the 8-, 16-, and 32-bit families are all extension of one another. Nicely done.

Performance-wise, the M4K processor is in the same ballpark as an ARM9, AVR32, or Cortex-M3. In Microchip’s new MX5, MX6, and MX7 devices, the processor runs at 80 MHz. They don’t have floating-point units, but Microchip provides an FP library that does a good job of faking it.

Reality check: Keep in mind that this is pretty much the same RISC processor that was driving Silicon Graphic workstations not so long ago. The special effects in Jurassic Park were rendered with this processor. And now it occupies a small corner of a $5 microcontroller. Awesome.

At around $5 in quantity, these new MXx parts aren’t as cheap as Luminary Micro’s famous “32 bits for a buck,” nor as inexpensive as NXP’s new Cortex-M0 chip. But they’re also faster than either of those chips, and they come with a ton more peripherals. There’s obviously a lot of headroom for growth in the MIPS architecture, so once a Microchip customer makes the jump from a 16-bit PIC to the PIC32 family, it’s clear sailing from then on. Of course, the same could be said for ARM-based chips, and they have even broader software support than MIPS has. Microchip’s new MX5, MX6, and MX7 occupy that hotly contested middle ground where low-end microcontrollers meet high-end 32-bit embedded processors.

Leave a Reply

featured blogs
Aug 3, 2021
I just discovered that Norland Nannies -- who can command a salary of $170,000 on a bad day -- are trained in self-defense and defensive driving....
Aug 3, 2021
Picking up from where we left off in the previous post , let's look at some more new and interesting changes made in Hotfix 019. As you might already know, Allegro ® System Capture is available... [[ Click on the title to access the full blog on the Cadence Community si...
Jul 30, 2021
You can't attack what you can't see, and cloaking technology for devices on Ethernet LANs is merely one of many protection layers implemented in Q-Net Security's Q-Box to protect networked devices and transaction between these devices from cyberattacks. Other security technol...
Jul 29, 2021
Learn why SoC emulation is the next frontier for power system optimization, helping chip designers shift power verification left in the SoC design flow. The post Why Wait Days for Results? The Next Frontier for Power Verification appeared first on From Silicon To Software....

featured video

Electromagnetic Analysis for High-Speed Communication

Sponsored by Cadence Design Systems

When your team is driving the future of breakthrough technologies like autonomous driving, industrial automation, and healthcare, you need software that helps meet approaching deadlines and increasingly high-performance demands. Learn how a system analysis solution can provide accurate 3D modeling, electromagnetic simulation, and electrothermal simulation at the chip, package, PCB, and system level.

Click to learn more

featured paper

Configure the backup voltage in a reversible buck/boost regulator

Sponsored by Maxim Integrated

This application note looks at a reference circuit design using Maxim’s MAX38888, which provides a supercapacitor-based power backup in the absence of the system rail by discharging its stored charge. The backup voltage provided by the regulator from the super cap is 12.5% less than the system rail when the system rail is removed. This note explains how to maintain the backup voltage within 5% of the minimum SYS charge voltage.

Click to read more

featured chalk talk

Building Your IoT Toolbox

Sponsored by Mouser Electronics and Digi

December 17, 2020 - IoT design is a complex task, involving numerous disciplines and domains - including embedded design, software, networking, security, manufacturability, and the list goes on and on. Mastering all those moving parts is a daunting challenge for design teams. In this episode of Chalk Talk, Amelia Dalton chats with Andy Reiter of Digi International about development, deployment, manufacturing, and management tools for IoT development that could help get your next design out the door.

Click here for more information about DIGI XBee® Tools