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I recently came across a Wall Street Journal article,"ARM Chases Bigger Slice of Smaller Chips," that provides a very interesting perspective on how ARM is positioned to capture the microcontroller market, which is its next growth area. ARM based microprocessors are clearly dominating the mobile products from smart phones to tablets across Windows, Android and IOS mobile eco-systems. Most of these devices are using ARM based Cortex A series processors, which provide a very delicate balance between good performance and power efficiency requirements.
However, for ARM, the microcontroller market is still untapped, and this is where ARM is planning its next major push. Before we go any further, I would like to elaborate on what a microcontroller is and how it differs from Cortex A-series mobile processors that ARM sells for smart phones.
Block diagram of pressure control system
Most of the ARM based smart phones have ARM microprocessors (Cortex A series) along with memory and graphics circuitry to provide the mobile experience. A microcontroller is a single integrated circuit that contains embedded processor cores, memory and programmable I/O peripherals. Usually microcontrollers perform a custom function tailored to specific applications.
For example, a Fuel Gauge pressure sensor's function is to monitor the fuel pressure and level at real time. Typically on average, a automobile will have close to 30 microcontrollers performing various critical functions. Now, you can imagine the size of the MCU market compared to smart phones in terms of numbers alone.
Key characteristics/requirements for a typical micro-controller are reliability, low cost, and extreme low power requirements.
Microcontrollers based on ARM's Cortex-M family satisfy the above requirements and more. Cortex-M based MCUs are 32 bit wide compared to 8 bit wide micro-controllers available from other vendors. With 32-bit ARM processors, a microcontroller can process complex instructions in a shorter time and can reduce the on-board flash needed in a 8-bit microcontroller. Also, ARM based microcontroller instruction sets are compatible with ARM based Cortex A series processors, and they fit into ARM's huge ecosystem comprised of 30+ RTOS, Cortex MCO software interface standard (CMSIS), and 10+ tool chains.
Cadence has a long standing collaboration with ARM in design and integration of high performance ARM processors using Cadence's expertise in design tools and methodology. At the Design Automation Conference this year, Cadence's mixed-signal solutions group showcased a demo which focuses on the integration of ARM Cortex-M processors into mixed-signal applications using the industry leading Virtuoso analog/mixed-signal design environment. Cadence mixed-signal solutions address typical MCU design challenges like full-chip verification, low power design, and reduced area, and enables first-silicon success.
Demo system block diagram -- adding analog interface to Cortex-M System Design Kit
The demo models a pressure sensitive Fuel Injection system based on the ARM Cortex M0 based system. It shows how to develop the M0 based system and debug across HW/SW and analog/digital boundaries. It starts with ARM's Cortex-M System Design kit and integrates with AMS and RTL peripherals. Design intent is then verified using system level mixed-signal simulation. Finally, the demo uses the Cadence InCyte Chip Estimator for IP selection and initial floorplan to feed in to the implementation tool for the physical implementation.
If you are planning on developing Cortex-M based processors, this demo will demonstrate how Cadence mixed-signal solutions works well with ARM based processors. The Cortex-M Mixed signal demo is currently available on demand. Please contact your Cadence representative to learn more about the demo and Cadence mixed-signal solutions.