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ARMed for battle in industrial sector

6 August 2008 News

Findings from a report by market researcher Semicast, suggest not only substantial revenue growth for 32-bit MCUs/MPUs in the industrial and medical sector, but also a considerable shift in demand in favour of ARM-based controllers.

While historically the industrial and medical sector has been viewed by many as one requiring relatively low processing performance, it has in fact represented a substantial market for 32-bit processors for many years. Previous demand has typically centred on x86-based devices for use in 'PC-like' applications such as ATMs, EPOS, vending machines and single board computers. In such applications the design typically centres around the 'Wintel' combination of Intel processor running Microsoft Windows, with proprietary middleware written to provide the specific needs of the application. Considering the huge base of applications expertise, development tools and knowledge surrounding this platform, Semicast sees little drift away from the x86 architecture in most 'PC-like' applications in the industrial sector, even in the long term.

Perhaps the best known and most established 32-bit MCU platform in industry is Coldfire. While its revenues are forecast to continue to grow in the medium term, Coldfire is forecast to steadily lose market share as other architectures record higher growth. Considering the depth of support amassing for the ARM architecture, Semicast forecasts that highest revenue growth in the medium term will be recorded for ARM-based controllers.

The roster of suppliers supporting the ARM architecture in the industrial sector is growing and includes some of the best known names in the industry including Atmel, Marvell, NXP, STMicroelectronics and Toshiba, with focused suppliers such as Cirrus Logic, Luminary Micro and Zilog adding their weight. Considering that Actel and Altera also offer FPGAs with support for the ARM Cortex M1 core, supply of ARM-based products into the industrial sector is now coming from all directions. Some of the applications where ARM has, or is forecast to take, considerable market share include consumer medical, alarm panels, motor control, EFT transaction terminals, handheld data terminals and CCTV cameras.

One factor which Semicast predicts will provide a substantial boost to the adoption of ARM in the industrial sector is the introduction of MCUs based on the Cortex M3 core. Cortex M3 enables ARM-based controllers to be introduced with low cost, low power consumption and mid-range performance, and is most likely to be used in applications in place of 16-bit MCUs, such as Texas Instruments' MSP430. This will effectively segment the industrial MCU market into 8-bit for low cost, low performance applications, with 32-bit control from the mid-range up.

Naturally, ARM will not have everything its own way, with Microchip (MIPS-based PIC32), Renesas (SuperH), Freescale and AMCC (both Power Architecture) all looking at opportunities in the industrial sector.

Colin Barnden, Semicast's principal analyst for semiconductor research and author of the study commented, "The overall conclusion cannot be missed; while ARM historically was regarded as the architecture for the phone, the ARM Connected Community clearly has plans to do a lot more than just talk about the industrial sector."

For more information visit www.semicast.net





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