NEC launches efficient 16-bit microcontroller

Users of portable devices could soon be worrying less about recharging their batteries. NEC Electronics America Inc. Monday announced a line of 16-bit "all flash" microcontroller units (MCU), meant for designers of mobile devices for consumer electronics, household devices and industrial systems.

As such devices become more sophisticated, they both draw more power and handle more wireless operations. The MCUs could help designers resolve conflicts between power consumption and increased capabilities, NEC said.

The new 78K0R series offers 16-bit MCU performance with 8-bit power consumption. The product runs at 1.8 milliwatts per million instructions per second (MIPS), an improvement of six times the power/performance ratio of the company's previous product, the 8-bit 78K0 MCU.

Company leaders wanted to give engineers a variety of design options, so this series includes 30 variations of the microncontrollers and flash memory configurations ranging from 64KB to 256KB.

In contrast, Intel Corp.'s 16-bit microcontroller -- the 88CO196EC CHMOS in the MCS 96 line -- also integrates flash memory onto the chip. But its architecture is optimized for real-time control applications such as hard disk drives, modems, printers, pattern recognition and motor control. Likewise, Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s 186Cx microcontrollers are designed for cost-sensitive embedded applications in telecommunications, digital phones and Digital Subscriber Line services.

NEC will compete strictly on the basis of power usage. The new units can operate at half the power level of competing 16-bit MCUs, according to Santa Clara, Calif.-based NEC Electronics America. They rely on a three-stage pipeline that enables high-speed processing and supports performance up to 13 MIPS, while voltage-control circuits and other CPU features help suppress power consumption.

The MCUs offer an upgrade path for users of the company's previous product, because the 16-bit 78K0R instruction set includes the 8-bit 78K0 instruction set. The series also features power-on reset functions, voltage-detection circuits, on-chip oscillators, calendar timers and low electromagnetic interference.

Samples of the 16-bit series are expected to be available starting in April, with volume production scheduled to begin in October.

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