Microcontrollers based on Arm processor cores have become ubiquitous in embedded systems and IoT devices. Arm cores are known for their power efficiency, making them well-suited for battery-powered and energy-constrained applications. With a wide range of performance levels to choose from, Arm-based microcontrollers can meet the needs of diverse applications from simple sensors to advanced robots and drones.
This article provides an overview of some of the most popular Arm-based microcontroller families available today from leading semiconductor companies like STMicroelectronics, NXP, Microchip, Renesas, and Cypress. We’ll look at the key features, performance characteristics, and target applications of these microcontroller lines to help you select the right option for your next embedded design project.
STMicroelectronics STM32 microcontrollers are based on the Arm Cortex-M processor cores. They offer high performance with low power consumption and are widely used in industrial, medical, and consumer applications.
The STM32F series features the Cortex-M4 core with floating point unit (FPU) and digital signal processing (DSP) instructions. Clock speeds go up to 180 MHz. These MCUs include features like dual-bank Flash memory, analog peripherals, communication interfaces, and more. The STM32F4 and STM32F7 sub-families provide higher performance options.
The STM32L series is optimized for ultra-low-power operation using the Cortex-M3 core. Advanced power saving modes and low-power peripherals allow these MCUs to achieve battery lifetimes up to years on a coin cell. The STM32L4 sub-family includes more connectivity options.
Combining performance and power efficiency, the STM32G series uses the Cortex-M4 core with FPU. It includes features for graphics, audio, and other advanced applications, along with integrated wireless connectivity options.
NXP i.MX RT Series
The i.MX RT series from NXP utilizes the Cortex-M7 core, the highest performance Arm core for microcontrollers. These MCUs feature high clock speeds up to 600 MHz, large memory options, and advanced peripherals for audio, voice, graphics, and machine learning applications.
RT1050 Crossover MCUs
Featuring the Cortex-M7 core with a 533 MHz clock speed, the RT1050 family combines microcontroller capabilities with processing and graphics performance for advanced HMI and predictive maintenance applications.
RT1020 Value Line
This more cost-optimized series goes up to 500 MHz using the Cortex-M7 core. RT1020 MCUs still include connectivity options like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth LE for IoT edge nodes.
Microchip SAM L, E, V, and G Series
Microchip Technology offers a range of Arm Cortex-M based SAM (Smart ARM-based MCU) families for different applications needs.
SAM L Series
The Cortex-M0+ based SAM L series is designed for ultra low power and small form factor applications like wearables, medical devices, and wireless sensors. These MCUs have active current consumption down to 35μA/MHz.
SAM E Series
Moving up to the Cortex-M4 core with DSP, the SAM E series provides more performance for industrial, motor control, and home appliance applications while maintaining low power operation.
SAM V and G Series
The highest performance options like the Cortex-M7-based SAM V71 and SAM G55 support applications that require floating point arithmetic such as motor control, power conversion, and audio processing.
Renesas RA MCUs
Leveraging Arm cores in its new RA family, Renesas provides a range of microcontroller options suitable for industrial automation, building automation, and surveillance systems.
Featuring the Cortex-M33 core with TrustZone technology, the RA6 MCUs offer advanced security capabilities to protect intellectual property and sensitive data.
Optimized for lower power operation, the Cortex-M23-based RA4 family is well-suited for battery-powered wireless applications like IoT endpoints and wearable devices.
Entry-level RA2 MCUs use the Cortex-M0+ core for cost-sensitive applications like home appliances, power tools, and hobbyist projects.
Cypress PSoC 6 MCUs
The PSoC (Programmable System-on-Chip) 6 family from Cypress integrates an Arm Cortex-M4 core with programmable analog circuitry for building flexible, full-custom embedded systems.
PSoC 63 MCUs
Providing higher performance options, the PSoC 63 series includes devices with dual-core Cortex-M4 processors. The PSoC 63 MCUs are well-suited for advanced CapSense touch sensing applications.
PSoC 62 MCUs
The PSoC 62 line offers a range of lower cost options with up to 256 KB of Flash and 100 MHz clock speeds. Developers can use the analog and digital programmable blocks to fit these MCUs to their specific system needs.
This overview covers some of the most common and popular Arm-based microcontroller families. Besides these, there are also Cortex-M based options from other semiconductor vendors like Maxim Integrated, Silicon Labs, Nuvoton, and Dialog Semiconductor. The Cortex-M cores have been broadly licensed enabling wide availability of Arm-based microcontrollers across the whole embedded sector.
With their combination of power efficiency, performance scalability, and extensive software/tool ecosystem, Arm Cortex-M MCUs have become the architecture of choice for many embedded applications. The wide range of options from leading semiconductor suppliers means developers can readily select the right microcontroller for their specific price, performance, feature, and power requirements.