Microcontrollers (MCUs) have come a long way since the pioneering 4-bit Intel 4004 hit the market back in the 1970s. Today, they’re the heart of most embedded systems, from automotive engine control systems, medical devices, toys, and more, serving as low-cost, compact, single chip computers.
The beauty of MCUs is that they reduce the size and cost of the alternative: using separate microprocessors, memory chips, and I/O devices. Instead, they put all this functionality on the same chip to reduce cost and size. As the price of microcontrollers drop and performance and ease-of-use rise, microcontrollers are increasingly credited for fuelling the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) since it’s now feasible from a cost and size perspective to have a computer in not only every pocket, but in nearly every single object.
Before we jump into the top 10 microcontrollers used by PCB designers*, I had a chance to discuss some factors to consider when selecting one with Suresh Joshi, principal consultant at IoT product development firm Vicara Solutions Inc., and author of some great blog posts like this one on how to start a hardware company.