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Pig in the middle

With much activity in the 8 and 32bit processor markets, are 16bit microcontrollers stuck in the middle? By Philip Ling.

The trend towards using 32bit cores in microcontrollers has been ramping lately. ARM – one of the leading protagonists in this niche – continues to develop cores with features of specific interest to the embedded sector, with the Cortex family being the latest example.
But suggesting this will spell the end for 8 and 16bit devices is contestable. Whilst cost differences between the bus widths are minimal (at least in relation to the silicon needed and performance benefits returned), the development effort required of the user remains a differentiating factor.
The investment in improving 8bit performance hasn’t really slowed either, which suggests there will be demand for this class of device for the foreseeable future. At the other end of the scale, 32bit devices are just beginning their journey in to the general purpose embedded arena.
This leaves the 16bit architecture; the ‘pig in the middle’. It would be fair to say 16bit has always been seen as somewhat of an underachiever, but it seems that, with a little nurturing, its full potential could yet be unleashed.

Philip Ling

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