Silicon Labs Releases ‘Most Performant’ 8-bit MCUs to the Market
Built for designers needing a balance between price and performance, the BB5x family offers more features in a familiar development environment.
Silicon Labs has announced the BB5x family, a new family of 8-bit microcontrollers (MCUs) built to help designers use familiar tools when developing simple embedded applications like electric toothbrushes, handheld kitchen tools, and even children's toys.
The Silicon Labs BB5x family offers improved 8-bit performance with a unified developer experience under Simplicity Studio 5. Image used courtesy of Silicon Labs
While 32-bit and wireless MCUs often boast the best specs in processing, memory, and feature sets, the market for 8-bit MCUs remains as strong as ever, and Silicon Labs hopes to provide designers with a better, unified development experience with the BB5x family.
This article takes a closer look at the BB5x specs to find out why developers may want to include a member of the new family in their own designs.
A New, Full-Featured 8-bit MCU
Although the spotlight typically falls on 32-bit or wireless MCUs, designers still rely on 8-bit processors for simple, cost-effective devices. And while most applications using 8-bit MCUs could certainly be accomplished with 16- or 32-bit MCUs, the higher computational power comes with a proportional increase in cost.
Many manufacturers still offer 8-bit MCUs, but they often do not upgrade to the latest and greatest supporting software, leaving designers with legacy solutions that may not mesh well with a 32-bit workflow.
The BB52 MCU sports the greatest memory and pin count of the BB5x family and includes a 10-bit DAC for designers needing true analog outputs. Image used courtesy of Silicon Labs
The BB5x series (datasheet linked), on the other hand, offers a wide range of features for designers to choose from. The 8-bit MCU family supports up to 50 MHz clock speeds with up to 32 KB flash memory and 2304 B RAM. These specs are complemented by up to 29 GPIO pins, with options including communications protocol support and an onboard 10-bit DAC.
Develops Like a 32-bit MCU
In addition to the hardware inside the BB5x family, Silicon Labs has provided dev support using Simplicity Studio, its all-in-one development environment for 8-bit, 32-bit, and wireless MCUs. While this platform may not translate to added performance, it does simplify the development experience by unifying the process under one software.
If a target application will ultimately have a wireless and non-wireless version, Simplicity Studio allows developers to recycle code between devices. In this way, designers can take a develop-once, deploy-twice approach. This not only translates to a decreased time-to-market but also eliminates the need for multiple software packages, libraries, and workflows.
With the BB5x family's compatibility with Simplicity Studio, developers only need to develop code once for a wireless MCU, which can be applied to the 8-bit MCU family. Screenshot used courtesy of Silicon Labs
The BB5x series is built for battery-powered embedded applications such as consumer electronics, battery packs, and industrial automation. The family is available now from Silicon Labs, along with evaluation boards for designers looking to get up and running quickly.
The Ongoing Value of 8-bit
Although the BB5x family may not win in a battle of raw computational power, it does offer a price-to-performance balance that Silicon Labs claims is greater than 32-bit MCUs. While computationally focused applications may not benefit from the BB5x MCU family, designers developing simple devices can make great use of the features in the family, paying only for the performance they need.