Alif Semiconductor Hopes to Push IoT Applications Further with New MCU Families

September 08, 2021 by Jake Hertz

As the IoT market heats up, new devices are coming out to keep up with the momentum. One latest development comes from Alif Semiconductor with two new MCU families the "Ensemble" and "Crescendo."

The rise of the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) has led to a need for new hardware that can support a lot of functionality at a lower power budget. Amongst many things, a standard IoT device needs to support wireless connectivity, ML inference, standard compute, and a high level of integrated security. 


Some of the challenges and requirements for IoT.

Some of the challenges and requirements for IoT. Image used courtesy of Boulogeorgos et al


This need has spurred the development of multitudes of new companies and technologies. One of these companies is California-based Alif Semiconductor, a brand new company founded in 2019. This week, Alif made headlines when it announced two new families of MCUs for IoT. 

While the datasheets are not out yet, this article will cover what has been released on these MCUs, starting with what Alif is calling its "Ensemble" family.


The Ensemble Family 

The first family release from Alif this week was the Ensemble family of MCUs, which are explicitly meant for high-performance embedded processing. 

On the lowest end, the single-core E1 processor leverages a single Arm Cortex-M55 core, while the highest-end E7 quad-core processor blends two M55 cores with two Cortex-A32 processors cores. In addition to the four cores, the E7 also integrates two Arm Ethos-U55 microNPUs for ML acceleration.


A block diagram of the Ensemble E7.

A block diagram of the Ensemble E7. Image used courtesy of Alif


Again, specs are not currently available, but Alif claims that the Ensemble family will also come with:

  • large on-chip SRAM and nonvolatile memory,
  • accelerated graphics,
  • imaging, and
  • class-leading power characteristics.

The family also prioritizes multiple security features, including device integrity protection, secure identity, strong root-of-trust, and secure lifecycle management. Applications include smart home products, appliances, point-of-sale, and robotics. 

Now the basics of the Ensemble family are better understood, let's take a look at what the Crescendo family is offering.


The Crescendo Family 

The next release from Alif is their Crescendo family of MCUs, meant to support high performance and multiple forms of wireless communication. 

In a lot of ways, the Crescendo family offers the same functionality as the Ensemble family. Like the Ensemble family, Crescendo comes in at the lowest end with C1, a single-core MCU based on a Cortex-M55 core. The high-end offering is the C7, a quad-core MCU based on Cortex-A32.


A block diagram of the Crescendo C7.

A block diagram of the Crescendo C7. Image used courtesy of Alif


Where this family differs is in its integration of wireless connectivity. All four offerings from the Crescendo family include LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT connectivity, integrated RF transceivers, power amplifiers, and a concurrent GNSS receiver for positioning. The key applications for this product include asset tracking, healthcare devices, and wearables. 

Despite the similarities and differences between the two families, Alif is striving to push its MCUs into a wide range of applications.


Two Families, Lots of Applications 

Overall, Alif envisions a plethora of applications for its new processor families. Amongst the many include:

  • Mobile POS,
  • Smart speakers,
  • Wearables,
  • Portable medical devices,
  • Smart cameras, and
  • Asset tracking. 

With so many applications, including possible solutions and block diagrams, Alif hopes to make designing with these new MCUs far-reaching and accessible. Though these new product offerings certainly seem to have potential, it will be more interesting to dig into the datasheets to see if they’ll live up to their promises once and if they become available.


Featured image used courtesy of Alif