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Silicon Labs Upgrades Wireless MCUs

June 18, 2019

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Mindful of the embarrassing security breaches that plague first-generation IoT devices, Silicon Labs is girding its newest wireless microcontrollers with hardier security hardware. Secure boot, cryptography acceleration, side-channel defenses, a secure debug port, and a true-random-number generator (TRNG) are among the improvements. The new EFR32xG21 chips in the Wireless Gecko Series 2 family are also the first Silicon Labs products to adopt Arm’s Cortex-M33, and they have enhanced 2.4GHz radios for popular IoT protocols.

Shipping in volume since April, these 32-bit wireless MCUs target line-powered IoT. The company is also developing plug-and-play wireless modules and battery-friendly models that will inherit the power-saving features of its Wireless Gecko Series 1 family. Already, the new chips rank among the lowest-power wireless MCUs on the market. In active mode (albeit with their radios silent), they draw only 51 microamps per megahertz. And they’re tiny, cramming all their features into a 4mm surface-mount QFN package with only 32 pins.

The new chips are essentially 32-bit MCUs with integrated radios for the most popular IoT wireless protocols. The EFR32BG21 implements the Bluetooth 5.1 protocol, including Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Bluetooth Mesh; the EFR32MG21 implements those protocols plus Zigbee 3.0, Thread, and IEEE 802.15.4. Each design also is available with different integrated power amplifiers. Silicon Labs claims they can operate at up to twice the range of competing products.

As usual with MCUs, the on-chip memories also vary. Some models have 512KB, 768KB, or 1,024KB of flash memory and 64KB or 96KB of SRAM. Otherwise, the EFR32xG21 products are virtually identical. All can operate their Cortex-M33 cores at up to 80MHz, and they share the same integrated peripherals, I/O interfaces, and security features. List prices for 1,000-unit volumes are less than $5, depending on the radio output power, flash memory, and SRAM.

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