Invisible embedded: 4-, 8-, 16-bit MCUs still sell

May 14, 2013

Jack Ganssle-May 14, 2013

Are you writing code for an 8051?

If so, trust me, you're not a dinosaur.

There's a new study of the MCU market. The forecast is that 6.7 billion 4- and 8-bit MCUs will ship this year, up 6% over last year. Considering that so many feel 8 bits is dead that's pretty astonishing growth. Those parts are up 40% since 2009.

16 bit MCU shipments have almost doubled since 2009. And 32 bitters have gone up by a factor of four over the same period, though one wonders how many 32 MCUs really existed five years ago.

ARM's 2012 annual report indicates that some 26 billion cores were shipped last year. This number presumably includes the 19 billion 4/8/16/32 bit MCUs mentioned above.

What about PCs? Something like 350 million were shipped last year. This source pegs 2013 Q1 tablet sales at 49 million units, or about 200 million per year. To a first approximation, it doesn't really matter how many cores made it into each PC and tablet; together they represent just a tiny sliver of all CPUs and MCUs produced last year.

Twenty-six billion cores is an astonishing number. Seventy years ago there were zero programmable electronic digital computers in the world. Zero cores. All computation used mechanical calculators and some specialty electronics. Even by the early 1970s the notion of ubiquitous computing wasn't considered absurd; it simply wasn't considered. Ken Olson, head of Digital Equipment Corporation, said in 1977 (six years after the first commercially-successful microprocessor was introduced) "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

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