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Renesas RA MCUs Strengthen Security

November 19, 2019

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Known mainly for its huge RX family of proprietary 32-bit microcontrollers, Renesas is expanding its Arm catalog by shipping the new Renesas Advanced (RA) family. Although the previous Arm-based Synergy MCUs remain available, the new models strengthen security, and future models will add Arm’s TrustZone privileged-execution technology. Some future chips will also have dual cores and IoT radios.

The first RA products shipped in October featuring Cortex-M4 and Cortex-M23 CPUs. Next year, Renesas plans to add Cortex-M33 models, including its first MCUs with TrustZone. The four-year-old Synergy line continues to employ Cortex-M4, Cortex-M23, and Cortex-M0+. Although the RA and Synergy families are similar, the company says the new MCUs ease software development by working with more third-party tools in the Arm ecosystem. A new Flexible Software Package helps existing customers port code to the RA family, and it works with Amazon’s FreeRTOS.

The initial RA products include three groups comprising five series. The RA6 group comprises the M3-, M2-, and M1-series, all with Cortex-M4 CPUs. These 40nm products are the fastest, differing mainly in memory capacity. By contrast, the RA4- and RA2-series are manufactured in 130nm technology, operate at slower clock frequencies, and have less memory and fewer features. The RA4M1-series employs Cortex-M4, like its faster brethren. The RA2A1-series has the newer Cortex-M23 CPU with more analog peripherals.

Most customers are industrial users, which is the reason most RA products stick with the tried-and-true Cortex-M4. But the company says more customers are developing IoT devices, which are more vulnerable to remote cyberattacks. That’s why some models adopt Cortex-M23/M33—they’re the first Cortex-M CPUs to offer the TrustZone task isolation previously available only in much larger Cortex-A CPUs. But to get TrustZone, Renesas customers must wait until next year, when the RA family debuts its first M33 models.

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