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Microchip Debuts Dual-Core DSC

August 14, 2018

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Microchip’s new dsPIC33CH is an unusually capable 16-bit digital signal controller (DSC) that combines the functions of a microcontroller and DSP. Actually a family of more than 50 chips, the 33CH integrates two PIC CPUs in a master-slave configuration that enables the slave to continue operating even if the master reboots to recover from a fault.

The new family targets embedded systems that need real-time control and signal processing. Examples include electric-motor controllers, server power supplies, automotive sensors, and small drones. Some models are certified for automotive temperatures (–40ºC to +125ºC), so they’re suited to under-the-hood applications, such as fan controllers and pumps. Although the chips lack duplicate lockstep cores, the slave’s ability to operate independently of the master provides greater functional safety than a single-core chip.

Both cores are proprietary 16-bit PIC CPUs with signal-processing extensions. The master runs at 180MHz and the slave at 200MHz. Microchip says they deliver about 1.2 EEMBC CoreMarks per megahertz—about half the performance of Arm’s Cortex-M0+. Many 32-bit MCUs don’t reach such high clock speeds, however, so these humble 16-bit cores can outrun them. Microchip’s own SAM L10/L11 MCUs, which employ the newer Cortex-M23 CPU, peak at only 32MHz.

The 33CH family is available now in eight different packages that have 28 to 80 pins and measure 5mm to 12mm square. List prices range from about $3.00 to $4.30 for 1,000-unit volumes. A general-purpose development board costs only $35, and a motor-control module is $25. The chips are programmable in C using Microchip’s GCC-derived compiler and code libraries.

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