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Matthew Trowbridge, ceo, Renesas Technology Europe

Matthew Trowbridge, Renesas Technology Europe's ceo speaks with Graham Pitcher

GP: Whilst strong growth is expected for 32bit microcontrollers, does this mean demand for 8 and 16bit models will decline?
MT: Europe is the largest consumer of microcontrollers (mcu), with a 30% market share. In terms of design influence, Europe is even stronger, with nearly 40% of all designs incorporating mcus being defined in Europe.
The overall number of applications using microcontrollers continues to increase. MCUs are finding their way into an ever increasing number of devices, replacing older mechanical components and equipment, from switches through to utility meters. Touch sensing controls, for example, now increasingly rely on low pin count mcus in place of the previous mechanical alternatives.
At the high end of the microcontroller market, where designers previously used coprocessors, they are now integrating high performance mcus into their solutions in order to manage the extreme complexity of the latest generation mobile phones, PDAs and similar electronic devices.
At the low end, as size and cost continue to decrease, new application areas are opening up. As well as replacing mechanical components and equipment, 8bit mcus are now also used in smaller appliances such as toothbrushes and shavers, where before they would have been prohibitively expensive.

GP: What about mcus?
MT: From a technology perspective, mcus will also continue to evolve significantly in 2009. The move to 90nm fabrication for general purpose mcus allows for greater memory capacities. MCU flash memory, which is likely to remain the non volatile memory of choice for the near future, now offers densities of up to 2Mbyte in standard industrial devices. The next generation of flash technology will support even higher performance by offering single cycle access, which will enable simultaneous execution of code and program flash, using multiple bank architectures. Renesas continues to use MONOS flash technology for high end devices because of its high reliability and leading access performance. We can also expect 2009 to bring continued exploration of alternative memory technologies such as magnetic ram (mram).

GP: And dual core technology?
MT: Dual core technology is another area which we expect to see growing in importance during 2009. As the complexities of high end applications begin to stretch traditional mcu architectures beyond their limits, dual core devices provide the next logical step. We expect applications will use one of the cores as a master, with the other working alongside to accelerate specific algorithms.
Earlier this year, for example, Renesas launched a product with a performance of almost 1000MIPS. It features two modern, superscalar, Harvard architecture, multiple register banked SH-2A cores, each with a floating point unit. In the longer term, the challenge is to create truly dual core mcu applications, which will require the development of intelligent software.

GP: What are the other trends to watch?
MT: Further trends include the continuing integration of traditional analogue functions into mcus and the increasing importance of packaging. As well as simple analogue functions – such as a/d and d/a conversion – additional analogue features, including op amps and temperature sensing circuitry, are being integrated, allowing full measurement systems on chip. At the same time, new packaging technology and smaller packages will allow a higher concentration of pins and hence increase the number of available functions per unit area of a pcb. Packaging options, such as lga and chip scale, will become more mainstream requirements, providing solutions in a 32pin package with a 2 x 3mm footprint.
Moving on to applications, energy conservation is expected to show sizeable growth in its use of mcus next year. One particular application of mcus in this sector is to act as an intelligent standby switch to ‘wake up’ consumer goods.
At the same time, utility companies are driving initiatives across Europe to install smart meters in our homes. These smart meters will provide them with ease of billing and help us as consumers to take a more active role in regulating the energy we use. An example of the technology being used here is found in the mcus driving ruggedised power line communication (PLC) applications.

GP: Will we see strong growth for 32bit mcus in 2009?
MT: Although I certainly believe we will, there are good reasons why 8bit and 16bit mcus will continue to attract strong demand from customers. As highlighted earlier, new applications that require the combination of low power, low voltage and low cost offered by low end mcus are continuing to drive demand in this segment. In turn, this demand will continue to drive technological development to meet the increasingly diverse requirements of customers.
In summary, 2009 should see growth across all segments of the mcu market, as continuing demand for higher performance devices is matched by growth in the 8bit and 16bit sectors. Increased performance and lower costs for high end devices do not, however, signal a move away from 8bit and 16bit devices, as these continue to answer very specific needs. In fact, as costs come down, new application areas for devices that offer low power and low voltage will continue to appear.
This growing demand for both high and low end mcus will continue to push manufacturers to seek out technological advancement, with memory and multicore technology areas that should receive particular focus.
As mcus take a more central place in our lives, replacing mechanical with ‘intelligent’ devices, they will create real changes to the way we live. In these energy conscious times, low power mcus are already providing a ‘smart solution’ that will allow us to monitor more carefully how much energy we actually consume, for example.
Of course, we can expect many challenges over the coming twelve months – and probably a few surprises – but there is no doubt that this is a very exciting time to be working in the microcontroller business.

Chris Shaw

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