Archive for the ‘Embedded’ Category

New Tricks for Lower Power from Atmel

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

There has always been a trade-off between high performance and low power. Nowadays, microcontroller makers try to combine high performance while running with low power when idle.

The Cortex-M0+ processor core from ARM is claimed as their “most energy efficient”, and forms the basis of a number of recent microcontroller products.

Atmel‘s SAM D20, D21, and R21 feature the Cortex-M0+ core – and we have been working with these for a while:

SAM D21, R21, and D20 Xplained-Pro Boards

SAM D21, R21, and D20 Xplained-Pro Boards

Recently, the nice people at Atmel have kindly sent us an early example of the new SAM L21 Xplained-Pro board – featuring their latest, lowest-power addition to this range – the SAM L21.

Atmel SAM L21 Xplained-Pro board

Atmel SAM L21 Xplained-Pro board

Two New Tricks added in the L21 to allow it to achieve even lower power levels than the D21 are:

1. Powering-down unused modules

The D21 allows module clocks to be stopped, to reduce dynamic power consumption – but this still allows leakage currents to flow. By cutting the power, the leakage is greatly reduced.

2. Variable core voltage

The L21 has two “performance levels”: at the lower level, the core voltage is reduced to save power but with limited execution speed; the higher level allows maximum speed, but consumes more power.

Of course, all these features are to no benefit if the application doesn’t make best use of them – and doing that can be no mean feat!

To aid in optimising the system power consumption, the L21 Xplained Pro board features the Xplained Pro Analogue Module (XAM) to enable current consumption to be measured via the on-board debug interface (EDBG):

Xplained Pro Analog Module (XAM)

Xplained Pro Analogue Module (XAM)

Well, that’s enough writing for now – time to go off and give it all a try…

Didn’t we have a loverly time the day we went to Earl’s Court

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Embedded Live 2010 (formerly the embedded systems show),
Earl’s Court, London, England:

Earl's Court - Embedded Live 2010

I had visited the Embedded Systems Show (as it then was) at the NEC in Birmingham for many years. Attendances had been dwindling of late and, last year, it moved to FIVE in Farnborough (home of the famous Airshow).

This year, the show was under new ownership, rebranded as Embedded Live, and at a new venue – Earl’s Court in London.

We were most grateful to receive a special “opening offer” from UBM, the new organisers, to have a stand in the Connected M2M Devices pavilion at a very favourable introductory rate:

Antronics Ltd

This was our first time exhibiting at a show like this and, I must say, it was a fairly painless experience – thanks to the guys (and gals) at UBM.

We had a reasonable stream of visitors – it was good to meet some old friends, and to make some new contacts.

Special thanks to ARM for providing free drinks on the Wednesday night!

Some people doubt the value of exhibitions in this Web age, but I still think there’s a place for seeing stuff “in the flesh” and meeting real people face-to-face. So I hope next year’s show will be bigger and better…

Our stand

So What’s All This “Firmware” Stuff, Anyhow?

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Most people who have any contact with a computer these days will probably have come across the terms “hardware” and “software”:

“Hardware” is physical stuff – things you can touch, and see, and would hurt if you dropped them on your toe!

If you need to change “hardware” it means getting out screwdrivers and the like, and fiddling with cables, plugs, and other such mechanical & electrical stuff.

“Software” is more nebulous; in the old days, it at least came on a disk (or disks) in a box with a big manual (that you never read); but, nowadays, you can just download it – so it has no physical existence at all.

“Software” can be changed – added, removed, reconfigured – with just a few clicks of the mouse; no effort or tools required at all! It is this ease of changeability that gives rise to the “soft” in “software”

So where does “firmware” come in? “Updating firmware” is a topic that sometimes appears in the obscure pages at the back of the instructions for some high-tech gadgets; or, if your gadget is misbehaving, you might be asked about its “firmware version”…

As the name might suggest, “firmware” is a kind of hybrid; somewhere in between “hardware” and “software”.  Firmware is a special type of software that is fixed into a piece of hardware.  Thus it is not so easy to change (or update) as software, but easier to change (or update) than hardware; to put that another way, it is “harder” than software, but “softer” than hardware!

Firmware is usually associated with Embedded Systems (see previous blog entry), as they tend to lack the interfaces and storage of a “normal” computer for loading & storing software in the “normal” manner – hence their operating programs (or “software”) have to be fixed into the hardware as “firmware”!

All clear now?


Beware that your spell-checker doesn’t accidentally change your firmware into
formwork – which is something completely different…!

So What’s All This “Embedded System” Stuff, Anyhow?

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

When people ask me what I do, if I mention “embedded systems”, it usually just produces a blank look!

So let’s start this blog with a plain-words description of what an “embedded system” means.

It has been said that there is more computing power in your car today than was used to put men on the moon in the Apollo missions – but you wouldn’t think of  your car as a computer, would you?

This is the key to an embedded system: it is something that provides computing power, but is hidden – or “embedded” – within something that is not a computer!

So, back at the car, where is this “not-a-computer” hiding? Where is it “embedded”? In fact, there is not just one – there are many! The key one, central to the operation of the car itself, is the engine management computer; another one manages the anti-lock brakes; one for the air conditioning; one for the central locking; one in the radio; and, probably, several more…

These days, embedded systems are increasingly taking over things that used to be done by mechanical controls: washing machines; central heating timers; etc, etc…

Quite possibly, the free toy with the kids meal from a hamburger restaurant contains a tiny embedded system to flash the lights and play the annoying tune!

Hopefully this has given some meaning to the term “embedded system”. They can be big, they can be tiny; they can be essential, they can be trivial – but they are all around us in the modern world!

So long for now,


Antronics Ltd – Embedded Systems Specialists