MCUs Offer Configurable Signal Chain Elements

Texas Instruments (TI) has announced the addition of new microcontrollers with integrated signal-chain elements and an extended operating temperature range to its MSP430 value line portfolio. New MSP430FR2355 ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM) MCUs allow developers to reduce printed circuit board (PCB) size and bill-of-materials (BOM) cost while meeting temperature requirements for sensing and measurement in applications such as smoke detectors, sensor transmitters and circuit breakers.
Engineers can enjoy more flexibility in their system design with MSP430FR2355 MCUs, which integrate smart analog combos—configurable signal-chain elements that include options for multiple 12-bit digital-to-analog converters (DACs) and programmable gain amplifiers, along with a 12-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC) and two enhanced comparators.

Developers can use MSP430FR2355 MCUs for applications that require operation at temperatures as high as 105°C while also benefiting from FRAM data-logging capabilities. Engineers gain more options to select the right memory and processing speed for cost-sensitive applications with the MSP430FR2355 MCUs, which add options to the MSP430 value line FRAM MCU family by offering memory up to 32 KB and central processing unit (CPU) speeds up to 24 MHz. Designers can also scale to the rest of the MSP430 FRAM MCU portfolio for applications that require up to 256 KB of memory, higher performance or more analog peripherals.

Developers can start evaluating with the MSP430FR2355 MCU LaunchPad development kit (MSP-EXP430FR2355), available for US$12.99 from the TI store.

Texas Instruments | www.ti.com

Fanless SBC Targets Industrial IoT

Technologic Systems is now shipping its newest single board computer, the TS-7553-V2. The board is developed around the NXP i.MX6 UltraLite, a high performance  processor family featuring an advanced implementation of a single ARM Cortex-A7 core, which operates at speeds up to 696 MHz. While able to support a wide range of embedded applications, the TS-7553-V2 was specifically designed to target the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sector.

ts-7553-v2The TS-7553-V2 was designed with connectivity in mind. An on-board Xbee interface, capable of supporting Xbee or NimbleLink, provides a simple path to adding a variety of Wireless interfaces. An Xbee radio can be used to link in with a local 2.4GHz or sub 1 GHz mesh networks, allowing for gateway or node deployments. Either Digi or NimbleLink offer cellular radios for this socket, providing cellular connectivity for applications such as remote equipment monitoring and control. There is also the option for a cellular modem via daughter card. This allows transmission of serial data via TCP, UDP or SMS over the cellular network. The TS-7553-V2 also includes an on board WiFi b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 option, providing even more connectivity.

Further radio expansion can be accomplished with the two internal USB interfaces (one on a standard USB Type A connector, and the second on simple pin headers). The USB interfaces enable support for multiple proprietary networks via a dongle or USB connected device. This provides the opportunity to run mesh, LoRa, ZigBee, automotive WiFi or other protocols with the TS-7553-v2 . All of these radio options combined with the on board 10/100Base-T Ethernet create the opportunity to communicate seamlessly with up to 5 different networks simultaneously from a single point.

The TS-75553-V2 supports standard interfaces including:

  •     10/100 Ethernet
  •     TTL UART
  •     4 USB ports (3 host interfaces and, 1 device)
  •     3 RS-232 Serial/COM ports
  •     RS-485 port
  •     CAN bus
  •     Up to 5 GPIO

A Nine-Axis Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) motion tracking device containing a gyroscope, accelerometer and compass are optional on-board in for asset management, fleet management and other applications which would require sensing motion or vibration in the environment.

A low cost monochrome 128x64px LCD with 4 button keypad is available for Human Machine Interface (HMI) applications.  The keypad offers intuitive operation using 4 tactile function keys and the LCD is ideal for simple visualization tasks, even in harsh environments.  If HMI is not a consideration compact, lightweight, rugged enclosures are available to contain your gateway in a secure fanless enclosure. Both enclosures are DIN mountable.

Technologic Systems has taken the lead in combating read/write errors to memory that can prove fatal to Operating Systems. TS-SILO is an optional feature which will provide up to 30 seconds of reserve power in the event of a power failure. This precious extra time gives the board time to gracefully power down and ensures file system integrity. Additionally, for heavy data logging applications The TS-7553-V2 is the first SBC from Technologic Systems to include Ferroelectric RAM (FeRAM or FRAM). FeRAM advantages over flash include: lower power usage, faster write performance and a much greater maximum read/write endurance, allowing a user to keep running data logs without prematurely wearing out their flash memory. Combined these two features provide you with insurance from abrupt power loss, read/write errors and startup difficulties.

Applications with strict low power requirements will appreciate the work that’s been done to reduce power consumption to less than 2 W in typical conditions and a 9 mW sleep mode. Power over Ethernet (PoE) is supported via a daughter card, if desired.

Development can begin out-of-the-box with pre-installed Linux and utilities for controlling DIO, UARTS, CAN bus, and more. A complete board support package is provided, as well as access to our software repository and online support. Third party application support can be provided via the Technologic Systems’ Partner Network.

Technologic Systems | www.embeddedARM.com

Programmable Logic Controller Board

SmartTILE illustration 6.psdThe SmartTILE (Smart TRi Integrated Logic Engine) is a programmable logic controller CPU board that plugs onto a carrier I/O board. The board integrates a 32-bit CPU, ferroelectric RAM (FRAM) and flash memory, a battery-backed real-time clock, and an Ethernet port on board. Its digital, analog, and serial I/O signals are brought to a user’s carrier board via three sets of header pins.

All critical components are already built-in on board. A user just needs to design a simple carrier PCB that contains a D/A circuit that interfaces the SmartTILE’s low-voltage signals to real-world voltages and currents (e.g., 24, 120, or 240 V).

The SmartTILE-Fx provides 16 digital inputs, 16 digital outputs (5-V CMOS logic level), eight analog inputs, and four analog outputs (12-bit, 0-5V) and can be expanded to 128 digital inputs and 128 digital outputs. The controller board -Fx provides three channels of serial ports (3.3 V, TX, RX, and /RTS) that can interface to RS-232, RS-485, or even wireless radio. An I2C port (3.3 V) is also available, allowing OEM to interface to specialty ICs that support I2Cbus.

Contact Triangle Research International for pricing.

Triangle Research International, Inc.
www.triplc.com

Emerging Memory Technologies

Some experts predict it will be at least another decade before new memory technologies offer the low prices and wide availability to compete with NAND-based flash memory. Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile to look at potential NAND-flash successors, including phase-change RAM (PRAM), resistive RAM (ReRAM), and magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM).

In December’s Circuit Cellar magazine, now available online, Faiz Rahman describes and compares the newest memory technologies available for embedded systems.

“I cover only those devices that are now commercially available, but bear in mind that many other technologies are being hotly pursued in academic and corporate research labs worldwide,” says Rahman, an Ohio University visiting professor who received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College, London.

For example, last summer MIT Technology Review reported on a startup company’s testing of crossbar memory. The new technology, according to an August 14, 2013, article written by Tom Simonite, can store data 40 times as densely as the most compact memory available and is faster and more energy-efficient.

Here are the commercially-available technologies Rahman considers and some of his insights. (For the full article with more details, including an update on manufacturers of the latest memory devices, check out the December issue.)

PHASE-CHANGE RAM
One of the most interesting memory types to emerge in recent years is one that stores data as order or disorder in small islands of a special material. The structural transition

The structure of phase-change RAM cells in reset and set states is shown.

The structure of phase-change RAM cells in reset and set states is shown.

between ordered and disordered phases is driven by controlled heating of the material island…

There have been several recent advances in phase-change RAM (PRAM) technology. Perhaps the most remarkable is the ability to control the cell-heating current precisely enough to create several intermediate cell-resistance values. This immediately increases the memory capacity as each cell can be made to store more than one bit. For example, if eight resistance values can be created and distinguished, then the cell can be used to store three bits, thus tripling the memory capacity. This is now a routinely used technique implemented with PRAM devices.

MAGNETORESISTIVE RAM
We have all wished for a computer with no start-up delay that could be ready to use almost as soon as it was powered up. Such a computer will need to use an inexpensive

A spin-torque magnetoresistive RAM cell’s structure includes a free layer, a tunnel barrier, and a fixed layer.

A spin-torque magnetoresistive RAM cell’s structure includes a free layer, a tunnel barrier, and a fixed layer.

but fast nonvolatile memory. This combination is difficult to come by, but proponents of magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM) think boot times could soon become outdated as this new memory becomes a mature product….

MRAM’s nonvolatility alone will not make it a potential game-changing technology. Its high-access speed is what makes it special. Unlike other nonvolatile memory (e.g., EEPROMs and flash), MRAM boasts typical access speeds of 35 ns and potentially as short as 4 ns, with further developments. This combined with MRAM’s extremely high endurance and data retention periods of more than 20 years even makes the technology suitable for use as CPU cache memories, which is a very demanding application.

One further advantage of MRAM is that its basic architecture—where the access transistor can be formed directly on top of the magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ)—enables very dense integration, greatly reducing the cost of storage per bit and making MRAM well suited for use in solid-state disks.

FERROELECTRIC RAM
In many ways, DRAM is an example of an ideal memory, if it weren’t for its volatility… The problem is that the charge stored in a DRAM cell tends to disappear due to self-discharge

A ferroelectric RAM cell’s organizational structure is shown.

A ferroelectric RAM cell’s organizational structure is shown.

after only a few milliseconds. This means that all DRAM chips have to be periodically read and every cell’s state must be restored every few milliseconds. The requirement for periodic “refresh” operations increases the power consumption of DRAM banks, in addition to endangering data integrity in the case of even short power supply dips.

Within this backdrop, ferroelectric RAM (FRAM) became a potential game changer when it was introduced in the early 1990s…The permanence of induced electrical polarization in ferroelectric capacitors endows FRAMs with their nonvolatility. To write a particular bit, a FRAM’s cell capacitor is briefly charged in one direction to polarize the ferroelectric material between its plates. The capacitor voltage can then be removed and the bit state will be retained in the directional sense of the dielectric material’s polarization. No charges may leak away, and the polarization can be maintained for many years making FRAM, in a sense, a nonvolatile analog of DRAM….

A big advantage of using FRAM in microcontrollers is that just one memory can be used for program, data, and information storage instead of having to use separate flash, SRAM, and EEPROM blocks, which has been the trend so far.

RESISTIVE RAM
Phase-change memory uses programmed heat-generating current pulses to affect memory cell resistance changes. However, resistive RAM (ReRAM)—a still developing memory breed—uses voltage pulses to make resistance changes. This memory technology

A typical resistive RAM cell’s structure is shown.

A typical resistive RAM cell’s structure is shown.

utilizes materials and structures where suitable voltages can alter memory cells’ resistive states so they can store one or more data bits, similar to PRAM.

There are strong hints that ReRAM is capable of very fast switching with symmetric read and write times of less than 10 ns. This comes with a remarkably low power consumption, which should make this technology ideal for many applications.

As if these attributes were not enough, ReRAM cells are very small and can be placed extremely close together, which results in high-density memory fabrics.

Rahman’s article also introduces manufacturers offering products with the latest memory technologies, but he declares no single memory device the best. Despite manufacturers extolling their particular products, those that succeed will need to be available in high volume and at low cost, he says. They also must offer high-storage densities, he says, a bar most new memory technologies struggle to reach.