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32-Bit Microcontrollers (2021)

Written by Jeff Child

Arm-ed for Success

32-bit microcontrollers have become entrenched as the workhorse of today’s embedded systems. These devices serve a wide variety of embedded applications—adding intelligence, security and connectivity to today’s “smart” systems.

  • What’s happening in 32-bit microcontrollers?
  • PSoC 64 Secure MCUs from
    Cypress Semiconductor
  • Traveo II Body family
    of MCUs from Infineon Technologies
  • MAX32666 from Maxim
  • PIC32MK MCM MCUs from Microchip Technology
  • Nuvoton Technology’s NuMicro M251/M252 series
  • NXP Semiconductors’ S32K3 family
  • Renesas Electronics’ RA6M5
  • STM32WB15CC from
  • TMS320F2838x from Texas

For years, 32-bit devices have defined the top of the microcontroller (MCU) food chain, providing a mix of processing, memory and I/O on a single chip. They are essentially the most advanced engine for embedded systems before moving onto to a microprocessor (MPU)-type device, and all the baggage MPUs bring with them. And as embedded systems have evolved, so too have 32-bit MCUs. The most significant trends in recent years have been the addition of wireless connectivity and advanced security

Today’s crop of MCUs has many product offerings that include on-chip wireless connectivity. This has taken the form of support for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Wi-Fi and other technologies. With MCUs designed into systems across a wide diversity applications and industries, it’s hard to make any general statement about how they are used these days. But the leading MCU application areas include automotive, industrial systems, IoT, smart city, smart home, wearable devices and medical gear.

An ongoing trend among 32-bit MCUs is the dominance of products based on Arm Cortex CPU cores. While the leading vendors each offer successful lines of 32-bit MCUs based on their own proprietary cores, Arm-core based MCUs have clearly dominated new product rollouts over the past 12 months. In fact, in this article’s product gallery you’ll notice that seven out of the nine representative 32-bit MCUs are based on some form of the Arm Cortex CPU core (or cores).

Healthcare wearables is one of the most dynamic areas of 32-bit MCU design today (Figure 1). With that in mind, Maxim Integrated included its most recent 32-bit MCU product in its Health Sensor Platform 3.0 (HSP 3.0) that it announced last Fall. This ready-to-wear wrist form factor reference design monitors blood oxygen saturation, electrocardiogram, heart rate, body temperature and motion.

Figure 1
Healthcare wearables is one of the most dynamic areas of
32-bit MCU design today.

Maxim’s HSP 3.0 or MAXREFDES104# includes sensor, power management, MCU and algorithm products. The MCU is the MAX3266, a BLE-enabled, ultra-low power MCU with two Arm Cortex-M4F cores and an additional SmartDMA which permits running the BLE stack independently, leaving the two main cores available for major tasks


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Former Editor-in-Chief at Circuit Cellar | Website

Jeff served as Editor-in-Chief for both and its sister publication, Circuit Cellar magazine6/2017—3/2022. In nearly three decades of covering the embedded electronics and computing industry, Jeff has also held senior editorial positions at EE Times, Computer Design, Electronic Design, Embedded Systems Development, and COTS Journal. His knowledge spans a broad range of electronics and computing topics, including CPUs, MCUs, memory, storage, graphics, power supplies, software development, and real-time OSes.

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32-Bit Microcontrollers (2021)

by Jeff Child time to read: 2 min