ARM Launches Its Smallest 32-Bit Microcontroller

The Cortex-MO processor is a third smaller, more power efficient, and less expensive to make than ARM's previously smallest MCU.
ARM has reduced the size and power consumption of its 32-bit microcontroller, making the product suitable for a wider variety of devices, which range from medical equipment and lighting to touch-screen gadgets.

The Cortex-MO processor is a third the size of ARM's previously smallest MCU, the Cortex M3, and is more power efficient, the company said. In addition, the Cortex-MO can be built for less than a dollar per MCU, while the older model costs about a dollar.

ARM licenses its designs to semiconductor companies, which actually build the MCUs into hardware. Among the licensees for the Cortex-MO is NXP Semiconductors and Triad Semiconductor.

ARM's latest 32-bit product is priced similarly to most 8-bit MCUs, ARM said. The 8-bit MCUs, which have far less on-chip program memory, are used in environments in which the lowest possible power consumption is needed.

ARM, however, claims the design advancements in the Cortex-MO have it consuming as little as 85 microwatts. The product has the same footprint as a 16-bit MCU.

The reduction in power has expanded the uses of ARM's MCU into more applications, such as medical devices, e-metering, lighting, smart control, gaming accessories, compact power supply, power and motor control, and intelligent sensors, the company said.

The Cortex-MO is supported by the Keil Microcontroller Development Kit, which integrates the ARM compiler with the Keil uVision4 integrated development environment and debugger. ARM acquired the Keil tools in the 2005 purchase of Keil Software of Texas and Keil Elektronik of Germany.

"By utilizing these tools, ARM partners can take advantage of a tightly coupled application development environment," Reinhard Keil, director of MCU tools at ARM, said in a statement.

Cortex-MO is also supported by development tools from other vendors, including CodeSourcery, Express Logic, IAR Systems, Mentor Graphics, Micrium, and Segger.

ARM, which supplies processors to Apple for the iPhone, is facing increasing competition from Intel, which entered the market for low-power chips last year with its Atom processor. The Atom competes with ARM processors today in the mini-notebook market, which Intel dominates. ARM's RISC-based chips, however, remain better suited for smaller devices, such as smartphones.

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