There are many microcontroller architectures available to an embedded systems developer. But as more and more vendors adopt the ARM core, the choices become limited. Of course, those licensees will tell you that every one of their offerings is different. And in many ways they are. But in many ways they aren't.
In an interesting twist this week, one of the ARM competitors–Microchip–decided to hop on the ARM bandwagon, sort of. In a roundabout way, Microchip is attempting to become an ARM licensee. They are doing this by attempting to acquire the microprocessor divisions of Atmel.
Rather than go through the grueling months or even years of development, Microchip is trying to buy its way into the ARM camp. My first instinct (and the one I'm sticking with), is that this is a great move for Microchip, and one that could make them a very powerful player. By adding the ARM processors to its portfolio, which already contains the MIPS-based products, Microchip can span the performance range.
Whether it's reality or not, the perception of the MIPS products is that they play at the high end. This left a hole in the Microchip family. Its products start at the really low-end at 8 bits and traverse through the mid-range at 16 bits. But when it came to the 32-bit products, they skipped the high volume segment in favor of the high performance. Adding ARM changes all that.
I spent the last few days at the Renesas Developer's Conference, and I broached this subject with a few of the company's executives. They took the high road, explaining that they can beat the ARM competitors on performance, thanks to a much higher flash-memory performance. And if a customer wanted it, they could embed 8 Mbytes of flash on-chip.
I still make the argument that it's the supplier with the best ecosystem, which in turn gets their customers to make the fastest, is that one that will win.