For decades, the 8-bit microcontroller (MCU) has been the workhorse of countless embedded applications, especially those in consumer products and medical devices. The simple yet effective 8-bit MCU has played a central role in driving the evolution of smart IoT products. And while the capabilities of its offspring – like 32-bit and wireless MCUs – continue to race ahead, the popularity and preference for the modest 8-bit MCU shows no signs of slowing for a wide range of applications.
The industry has proven that while there is an undeniable need for high-bit, cutting-edge solutions, there will always remain a huge marketplace for straightforward and simple applications needing 8-bit support, nothing more and nothing less. Bigger is not always better, especially in a space that prioritizes low power consumption, longevity, and high production volume.
The Proven Demand for 8-Bit MCUs
Industries such as toys, power tools, medical devices, smoke alarms, security, personal care, home appliances, and automobile electronic components still require MCUs that perform a task reliably and with as little complexity as possible. 8-bit microcontrollers fill this need, allowing manufacturers to spend their extra time and resources focusing on higher maintenance or emerging areas of their business.
Additionally, the continued use of 8-bit MCUs allows manufacturers to offer customers a true range of customization options in their product lines. The ability to select more features and more connectivity, or, conversely, choosing a baseline model, supports a wider and more varied product portfolio.
Fighting the Backlash Against 8-Bit Microcontrollers
Unfortunately, some microcontroller manufacturers seem intent on phasing out 8-bit microcontroller architectures, to the detriment of their developers and customers. While 32-bit MCUs undoubtedly offer increased functionality and connectivity options for the right applications, they also bring increased complexity. In certain occurrences, 32-bit MCUs require a completely different coding language or development environment. This negates the possible time-savings from leveraging the extensive public 8-bit code libraries that exist from decades of widespread 8-bit MCU use. It also makes it harder (or even impossible) for developers to integrate legacy components and parts into new products using only 32-bit MCUs.
The best possible solution is embracing the range of MCU options, which begin with 8-bit, move up into 32-bit, and stretch on into wireless and beyond. For simple, straightforward applications not requiring wireless connectivity, a developer can select a reliable, proven 8-bit MCU to save space and cost. As complexity increases, a developer can ideally create a hybrid MCU architecture, selecting the right bit-count for each task required in the application. With this flexibility, a range of solutions – from good, to better, to best functionality – offer customers many choices to meet their specific needs and budgets.
Why Development Platform Matters for MCU Selection
A key consideration, therefore, is the ability for your MCUs to work well together, specifically when it comes to your coding language. To ensure this, your MCUs should be programmable in a single development environment, regardless of their bit count or connectivity. This prevents developers from having to maintain two separate code databases for different MCUs within the same application and allows legacy MCUs to be integrated into emerging applications.
An added benefit is the ability to evolve your products and application in response to developing needs, standards, or requirements, including security schemes. The ability to select different MCUs within a single application ensures your baseline solutions remain healthy and steadfast, while your leading-edge investments are fully future-proofed.
Silicon Labs Keeping to its MCU Roots
As an industry leader in delivering the fastest speeds and lowest power, Silicon Labs is known for supporting cutting-edge IoT applications and wireless solutions. It’s also true, however, that we offer – and will continue to support for the foreseeable future – a full line of high-quality, affordable 8-bit MCUs that fill a very real need in the consumer product and medical device industries and beyond.
The good news is that all Silicon Labs MCUs – 8-bit, 32-bit, and wireless – can all be programmed in Simplicity Studio, our unified development environment for all our technologies, SoCs, and modules.
Simplicity Studio includes SDK resources, software and hardware configuration tools, and an integrated development environment (IDE) with industry-standard code editors, compilers, and debuggers for no additional cost.
Alleviating the worry of how your MCUs will work together within your application – or if you’re building in unnecessary complexity or unused functionality – will reassure you that you’re making the most of your developer and manufacturing resources.