Microchip Claims Industry’s First Low Pin Count MCU Family With I3C Support
Microchip’s latest MCU shows that big things can come in small packages.
With the goal of enabling more efficient communication in the IoT, Microchip has released the PIC18-Q20 family of low pin count microcontrollers (MCUs) with built-in I3C support. As designers consider scaling up the number of sensors in day-to-day life, communications speed and efficiency come into the spotlight as potential sticking points. Microchip’s latest MCU addresses these drawbacks by making it easier for designers to adopt the I3C protocol.
Microchip’s latest MCU family supports up to two I3C modules, giving designers an out-of-the-box solution to improving communications efficiency.
The Improved Inter-Integrated Circuit (I3C) protocol expands upon the existing Inter-Integrated Circuit (I2C) protocol by boosting both the clock speed and maximum data rate to allow for faster data throughput in sensor systems. This improvement in data rate, however, relies upon the ability of the host processor to effectively control and decode the I3C communications.
This article breaks down the specs behind the PIC18-Q20 family of I3C-enabled MCUs and gives readers a sense of the performance increases that could be expected. In addition, we will discuss the significance of I3C support in a low pin count MCU and the impact it could have on IoT devices.
Shrinking BOM Costs
The PIC18-Q20 family is currently available in both 14- and 20-pin versions, with package sizes down to only 3 mm × 3 mm. Both members of the PIC18-Q20 family, the PIC18F06Q20 and PIC18F16Q20, support a 1.8 V - 5.5 V operation voltage and an internal 64 MHz oscillator. In addition, each device comes with a 10-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC), two 16-bit timers, and hardware touch-sensing support.
MVIO support allows designers to shrink designs and BOMs by incorporating a level shifter on the MCU silicon, making it remarkably simple to interface with any sensor.
In addition to the MCU specs, the PIC18-Q20 family also supports multi-voltage I/O (MVIO), allowing input and output pins to interface directly with sensors operating at different voltage levels. This reduces the BOM cost and complexity of the final circuit by effectively integrating a level shifter into the MCU. The MVIO pins can operate from 1.8 V to 5.5 V and can be either higher or lower than the MCU’s supply voltage. More information can be found in the PIC18-Q20 datasheet.
Boosting Communication Speeds
While the PIC18-Q20 family does support UART, SPI, and I2C, the greatest addition to the MCU family is support for up to two I3C modules. Using I3C versus the older I2C provides several advantages, especially in the case of IoT edge devices.
I3C offers not only improved clock speeds and data throughput by substituting open-drain outputs for push-pull outputs but also offers designers a more efficient communication protocol thanks to the support for voltages as low as 1.1 V. This reduction in voltage (combined with removing the need for external pullup resistors) makes I3C a considerably more efficient protocol compared to I2C. This week, the MIPI Alliance accounced the results of its I3C Plugfest.
The I3C block diagram highlights key pieces of hardware in the PIC18-Q20 family that enable improved data transfer speeds between sensors and processors.
For IoT edge devices, the improved efficiency and performance of I3C can enable higher data rate sensors at a larger scale. In addition, the small package size allows the PIC18-Q20 family to be integrated into a larger variety of applications, including those where the PIC18-Q20 is not the primary MCU.
The PIC18-Q20 MCUs are available now, along with a compatible evaluation kit for designers looking to rapidly evaluate the MCU’s capabilities.
Improving the IoT
In order to improve the scalability of the IoT, edge devices must be both small, power efficient, and support high data rates for communication to and from sensors and processors. As such, the PIC18-Q20 family of low pin count MCUs could be extremely beneficial for the future of the IoT by enabling designers to improve both performance and efficiency without sacrificing size.
With package sizes down to only 3 mm × 3 mm, the small size of the device allows it to be integrated into a variety of applications that require high performance in a small space.
As the chips become available, it will be exciting to see the applications that emerge from the combination of low pin counts and I3C support. Regardless of whether or not the PIC18-Q20 family becomes widely adopted, however, the move toward small yet capable MCUs is certainly a step in the right direction for the proliferation of the IoT.
All images used courtesy of Microchip