The advent of mobile devices and their popularity among consumers in the electronics market has led to development of ultra low voltage microcontrollers. These devices are intended to increase efficiency of the mobile devices and extend the life of their power supply. This is particularly important since most mobile devices are designed to use portable batteries (Freescale, 2009).
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Power supply from portable batteries has a significantly low voltage component, which affects the efficiency of the supply and the ability of the devices to adapt to the capabilities of the batteries. Mobile battery energy storage and management has become an important issue, particularly due to the increased use of mobile devices for applications that were previously reserved for larger computers (Freescale, 2009).
Dynamic voltage scaling is a new technology that has facilitated the development of ultra-low power microcontrollers. It is therefore necessary to use ultra-low power microcontrollers for devices relying on battery power in order to extend battery life and efficiency. There are various types of microcontrollers made for specific components of mobile devices.
One particular type of ultra-low power microcontroller is the MSP430 class of microcontrollers introduced to the market by Texas Instruments. This microcontroller is specifically designed for power supply control in portable measuring instruments. Its microprocessor is able to operate on 16-bit words, and it is a remarkably powerful processor for a measuring device.
The ability of the microcontroller to switch from low power and adapt to high power demands of certain processes within measuring instruments is one of its unique features. In addition, this class of ultra-low power microcontrollers is flexible since it has a dozen analog-to-digital converters and a complementary set of digital-to-analogue converters.
This makes it easy to interface the microcontroller with various peripheral devices such as sensors. The microcontroller features sixty four input/output pins, which are sufficient for most applications in the targeted instruments.
MSP430 microcontrollers are aimed at providing a high standard of computing capabilities while consuming a reasonably small amount of power. However, due to the numerous input/output pins, many registers and converters, and a powerful microprocessor, these microcontrollers have an average performance in power conservation.
Another company, Microchip, is offering a 16-bit option in PIC24F16KL402 class of microcontrollers. These microcontrollers are designed to provide better computing abilities than other microcontrollers with a lower limit for digital word processing. In addition, Microchip’s microcontroller is designed for low power consumption devices running on limited power sources.
Microchip has ensured that there is power conservation while maintaining performance standards by including 16-bit capabilities in its package. This effort is reflected in dsPIC® microcontroller meant for processing digital signals. The particular microcontroller uses modified Harvard design Architecture featuring several improvements in the functions of the microcontroller.
A wide range of oscillators is provided for various applications. Four different configurations for oscillators are used depending on the intended application for the microcontroller.
The microcontroller offered by microchip may not be as equipped as the one manufactured by Texas instruments. However, the microcontroller offers 16-bit computing capabilities with significantly low power consumption. This chip has a wide variety of applications.
Atmel Corporation has also endeavored to produce an ultra-low power microcontroller. ATmega48/88/168 produced by Atmel Corporation is an AVR microcontroller designed for low power consumption. RISC design architecture has been used in this microcontroller. CMOS semiconductor technology has been extensively applied in its manufacture.
However, this microcontroller has 8-bit processing capabilities only. To compensate for this, the microcontroller is able to handle complex data in one cycle even with the limited 8-bit capacity. This microprocessor has considerable speed capabilities that enable it to execute a large number of instructions using a small amount of power.
ARM Holdings is another company that is progressively becoming a significant player in the manufacture of modern ultra-low power microcontrollers. The company has developed a completely new design for ultra-low power microcontrollers due to the incorporation of new microprocessor technology.
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The LPC2114/2124 microcontroller built using ARM Holdings’ TDNI-s microprocessor features less transistors in the processing unit (NPX, 2011). This design feature limits the amount of the power consumed by the microprocessor unit, and results in overall conservation of energy. In addition to low power consumption, the microcontroller has a solid state memory which facilitates high-speed data transfer.
The data transfer function has been enhanced by use of a 128-bit data bus. One unique feature of the microcontroller is that it is a 16 bit microcontroller with an accelerator that allows it to process larger 32-bit words (NPX, 2011). This makes the microcontroller technologically advanced that those manufactured by Microchip, Atmel Corporation and Texas Instruments.
Furthermore, the ARM microcontroller has a sixty-four-pin input/output interface and several analog-to-digital converters. In addition, it has complementary digital-to-analog converters for flexible application.
Due to the capabilities of LPC2114/2124 microcontroller, it is often used in medical instruments and industrial processes (NPX, 2011). Its 32-bit capabilities make it suitable for heavier applications compared to microcontrollers by Microchip, Atmel Corporation and Texas Instruments.
Ultra low power microcontrollers are becoming important in electronics technology. This is due to the increasing need for compact electronic instruments and mobile communication devices (Freescale, 2009).
As mobile devices assume tasks that were traditionally reserved for powerful conventional computers, their demand for more power is being countered by employment of ultra-low power microcontrollers in the electronics assemblies.
Freescale, S. (2009, May 6). Freescale Low-Power microcontroller solutions. Energy efficient solutions. Retrieved from www.freescale.com/files/microcontrollers/doc/brochure/BRLWPWR.pdf
NPX, N. (2011, June 10). Single-chip 16/32-bit microcontrollers;. Npx.com. Retrieved from www.nxp.com/documents/data_sheet/LPC2114