Why 8bit is NOT deadFollow article
8bit is fighting back, I think there is real reason 32bit micros don’t fit in every application and that 8bit micros can still out perform them and are fighting back.
At ebmpapst we are one of Microchips largest users of PIC. This is because there is a micro in all our fans and a lot of them are PICs. 32bit micros have one very important advantage in my view, pure grunt. Yes you can handle larger numbers, have DMAs, more MIPS, more code space and more RAM than was available on an early 386 PC. These chips are really super computer of the embedded world. In fact it’s hard to find a sub 32bit processer at a show like embedded world. There is also an argument that programming on a 32bit chip is easier than an 8bit. This is total rubbish however as the real truth is that a lot of 32bit IEDs are giving your built in functions, pre coded blocks or functions that you can drop in. Yes this makes life easy but at a cost. The cost being you end up needing a 32bit micro to do all these wizzy functions. You can’t even clam that you can only program in assembler on the small chips and life is better in C. There is now a range of C compliers available for the smallest of 8bit micros.
People seem to think that 32bit is the only way forward and personally I feel that the embedded market and including some engineers are falling into the PC computer type attitude. When I look at what my days work involves, web, emails and using word, I sit in front of a PC that could have flown to the moon, cracked the German codes and possible have hosted all the web sites in the UK from the 90’s all at once. The problem has been our greed for more power and better graphics to name a few. Hence machines have got faster and the code has got massive, as the code gets bigger so is the need for the computer to run it. I’m still doing the same job I was in 1997 and my machine takes a lot longer to boot in the morning now than it did then. Embedded systems are going the same way. We expect so much from a chip and the manufactures are fighting to build the next best thing. Faster, smaller and lower power 32bit chips are coming out all the time.
Our 8bit micros however have all this already, tiny 6 pin devices running flat out with all internal devices turned on for just a few hundred uA’s. The real reason 8bit is still alive and kicking is because engineers know that you don’t need the latest high speed 32bit micro to read an analogue input and waggle a relay. The key point being that these manufactures are forgetting about the world of ‘things’ the intelligent switches, mice, keyboards, lighting ballasts, door bells and fans. The amount of data these devices need to handle and the ultra low power requirements mean that 8bit micros will hands down time and time again. Who needs high speed DMA access to an I/O port in one of the ‘thing’s.
At the last Microchip EDF seminar at RS we were asked who used which chips, no one put up their hands for a 32bit micro, and that is because the engineers just don’t need them. So be warned manufactures, some daft idea of 8bit micros dying away in 5 years is just not going to happen. In fact as we expect more ‘things’ to be intelligent then I expect there will still be people like me designing and programming in 8bit chips for a long time to come.