In many applications introducing an MCU can add significant system advantages in terms of flexible signal processing and control, calibration, field upgrades etc. For many mixed-signal applications the levels of memory resources required are quite small so the die size impact is low. For low volume applications in particular the overall development cost must however be kept low. Licensing a leading MCU is always an options however there’s either an NRE license cost impact, or a royalty that can require disclosing sensitive commercial information, or both. An alternative however is the OpenCores approach. For example a license and royalty free processor supported by industry standard development tools is the 16-bit openMSP430 – a microcontroller core compatible with TI’s MSP430 family. For many mixed-signal applications such a core is more than adequate in terms of performance and code density. The core together with the SoC digital design and firmware can be implemented on a low cost FPGA development board to validate the design in advance of tapeout, and enable applications firmware development prior to prototype part availability.
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