Choosing the Best Microcontroller for Your Embedded Application

Microcontroller selection can make a big impact on your embedded product’s success.  Once a device is chosen, it becomes engrained in the design, with other circuitry depending on it, so the designer should not take selection lightly.  Consider these main points before investing the time and money:

  • Cost: Some applications, such as industrial and medical fields, are more performance driven, where the difference of a $2 device and a $20 device are of no consequence.  In others, a few pennies make all the difference.  Decide if this is a major player in your product before shopping.
  • Peripherals: Some embedded microcontrollers are feature rich with USB, CAN bus, I2C, and several other peripherals for doing the task at hand.  Make sure you’ve considered the rest of the system, including room for future expansion.
  • Speed: Controlling a real-time system?  You’ll need speed for all the interrupt handling and computation.  If not, maybe a 1MHz clock speed will do the trick.  For a fast clock frequency, you’ll be consuming more power as switching losses rise.
  • Power Draw: If you’re designing a low power device that runs from a battery, you’ll want to consider the microcontroller’s sleep modes, wake logic, and power draw in the different modes to keep your battery life up.
  • Longevity: Consider the latest devices from manufacturers that are well known for their ability to deliver.  Check the stage of life to make sure it isn’t just about to go obsolete.  Some manufacturers make a 10+ year promise to keep their embedded device available.

Remember, you may be supporting your design for the next decade or more.  A little up-front investment of time can make that decade easy while you move on to bigger and better things!