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ARM targets 8-bit with Risc chip core

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Richard Wilson reports:

Advanced Risc Machines (ARM) is planning to attack the potentially lucrative market for 8-bit embedded microcontrollers with a new version of its ARM Risc microprocessor core.

The development of an '8-bit ARM' is being carried out with one of ARM's licensing partners. Company CEO Robin Saxby would not confirm which partner, but indicated that the intention was to benefit from the installed base of 8051 microcontrollers. "Making the 8051 obsolete is possible and we would like them to use an ARM core," said Saxby. "That will be another new ARM core."

It may be significant that last month Philips Semiconductor, a leading supplier of C51 microcontrollers, announced its interest in ARM by taking a license for the Risc microcontroller.

"There are 2.4bn 8-bit embedded microcontrollers produced each year. The biggest challenge facing the embedded market is converting some of that 8-bit legacy code. We are already talking to our partners about this," said Saxby.

Saxby has drawn up a three prong strategy to produce a family of ARM chips which will run existing 8-bit code and applications software more efficiently than existing C51 processors without a conversion problem. First is to develop the ARM code which will support migration of existing 8-bit applications, second to develop software tool support in partnership with EDA firms and lastly to continue its hardware licensing programme.

It is thought ARM will also develop high level C programming language support for the 8-bit devices. This is the strategy adopted by Atmel (another ARM partner) when it launched its non-ARM based AVR 8-bit Risc chip last year.

Opening up the 8-bit market to the ARM core is one of Saxby's key strategies for growing his Risc microprocessor design and support services business and is a response to the continuing market strength of Risc rivals like MIPS, Hitachi and Motorola. "Performance is no longer the biggest challenge in staying ahead of the competition," added Saxby.

This article first appeared in Electronics Weekly,
Wednesday 14th May 1997