March 10th, 2016 ~ by admin

Milandr K1886VE: The PIC That Went to Russia

Milandr K1886VE2U PIC17C756A w/ Flash Memory

Milandr K1886VE2U PIC17C756A w/ Flash Memory

We have previously talked about the Microchip PIC17, and its less then stellar success in the market.  After being introduced in the early 1990’s it was discontinued in the early 2000’s, though Microchip continued to provide support (and some devices) to users for some time after that.

In the early 1990’s a IC company was formed in Zelenograd, Russia (just a short distance to the NW of Moscow), the silicon valley of Russia, home to the Angstrem, and Micron IC design houses.  This company was Milandr, one of the first post-Soviet IC companies, with ambitious plans, and many highly capable engineers from the Soviet times.  They are a fabless company, though with their own packaging/test facilities, specializing in high reliability metal/ceramic packages.

The K1886VE is Milandr’s version of a PIC17C756A, though updated for the 21st century.  While mask-ROM versions are available the VE2 version replaces the ROM with modern FLASH memory.  This is a upgrade that perhaps would have kept the PIC17 alive if Microchip would have done similar.  It is packaged in a 64 pins CQFP white ceramic package with a metal lid and gold leads, not what one is use to seeing a PIC in.  Production of these PICs continues at Milandr (the pictured example is from 2012), as customers still use the parts, mainly in industrial and other places where reliability is key.

The use of a PIC in high reliability applications isn’t something entirely new.  The Microhard MHX-2400 radio system, designed for small satellites such as cubesats, runs on a PIC17C756A, a version flew on NASA’s Genesat-1 in 2006 carrying bacteria samples.  Milandr does offer radiation resistant devices so its likely that some Milandr PIC has flown to space as well.

 

January 21st, 2016 ~ by admin

Microchip PIC’s up Atmel

Microchip PIC16C62 ENG SAMPLE - 1989

Microchip PIC16C62 ENG SAMPLE – 1989

Yesterday Microchip, makers of the PIC line of microcontrollers, announced they were buying Atmel, for a cool $3.56 Billion.  This isn’t entirely surprising considering the ongoing consolidation in the industry, It was only last year that Dialog attempted to purchase Atmel, and before that ON Semiconductor and Microchip. In December of 2015 NXP and Freescale (formerly Motorola Semiconductors) merged, creating one of the largest microelectronics companies.  These mergers do create an interesting result, product mixes that were formerly competitors, end up being marketed side by side.  In the case of NXP and Freescale, NXP marketed many MCS-51 microcontrollers in their 8/16-bit lines, while Freescale of course sold many versions of MC6800 based MCU’s.  These two rivalries have existed since the early 1980’s and likely will continue.  Perhaps the biggest rivalry in MCU though is between Atmel and Microchip.

Atmel EPROM, fab'd by GI in 1986, right before they became Microchip

Atmel EPROM, fab’d by GI in 1986, right before they became Microchip

Microchip was spun off of General Instrument in 1987, but the PIC architecture dates back to 1976, and is still being made in nearly the same form (PIC16C55).  Atmel was started in 1984, first making EPROMs, and then MCS-51 microcontrollers, one of the very first companies to make an 8051 with on die flash memory.  In a bit of a twist of fate, when Atmel started, it was a fabless company, it contracted with several companies to make its EPROMs, including Sanyo, and General Instruments, which as mentioned above, became Microchip.  Atmel also makes APRC processors, and for a time made Motorola products as well (Atmel has a very convoluted history, for more info on this read here and here )

Today the PIC line continues to be popular, with devices for the low end, such as the PIC10/12 all the way to the MIPS based PIC24 on the upper end.  Atmel continues to make 8051 MCUs, but also makes the 8 and 32-bit AVR line, perhaps best known today for its use in Arduino boards.  They also make MCU’s based on the ARM core, a competitor to MIPS, and Atmel’s own AVR32.

Likely to the consternation to many fans of either company, this merger does make sense, more so than ON or Dialog buying Atmel.  While Microchip and Atmel both compete in the same markets, they do so with different architectures.  Product lines are unlikely to change, and overhead saving should free up $$ both for stockholders (yawn) and engineering teams alike. No word has been giving yet on wether Microchip intends to keep the Atmel branding, but perhaps they should, as an AVR MCU with a Microchip logo on it may just prove to be too much for some.

February 5th, 2013 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: The Largest Microchip PIC?

PIC17C766/CL ES

PIC17C766/CL ES

If there is anything a Microchip PIC is known for typically ‘large’ is not what comes to mind.  PICs were originally developed in the 1970s as a peripheral controller and ended up finding uses in products of every sort, for 35 years and counting.  The PIC17 series extended the original 12 bit architecture to 16 bits (16 bit instructions, ALU and registers are still 8-bit).  It added many new instructions (58 total) and an 8×8 hardware multiplier. Max clock speed was 33MHz. It was considered the ‘high end’ of the PIC line but now has been replaced by the PIC18 line.  Most of the PIC17s produced were in the 40-68 pin range. Many designers considered the PIC17 to be a less then great processor and in 2000 Microchip replaced it with the much better PIC18 line.

 

Microchip PIC17C766-CL-ESThis PIC17C766/CL was one of only 7 variants in the line (17C42,43,44, 752,756,762 and 766) compared to the many dozens in the PIC16 or 18 lines.  Produced in an 84 pin CLCC with UV EPROM window (for its 16k EPROM) the 17C766 provided 66 I/O lines, more then enough for any project.  It was used in some PIC development systems and emulators which were some of the few systems that really needed a PIC with 84 pins.  This particular example also happens to be an Engineering Sample and was produced in mid-2001, AFTER the introduction of the PIC18, it seems there was still at least some demand and use for the PIC17 a decade after its introduction.

 

March 28th, 2009 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: A PICture from the Past

Microchip has now shipped almost 7 billion of the legendary PIC processor line.  Still being made, and improved today, the PIC has been around for a very very long time. General Instruments created the PIC16 in 1975 to make up for the bad I/O of their CP1600 line. Later GI spun this off into Arizona Microchip Technologies in the late 1980’s and what is known today as simple Microchip.

 

GI PIC1655A

GI PIC1655A

Here is an original PIC1655A made in 1979.

 

Microchip PIC16C55A

Microchip PIC16C55A

And here is the same part (albeit now in CMOS) made in late 2001. Old designs such as the PIC, and the MCS-51 remain immensly popular, they are inexpensive, and have over 30 years of code base to work with.