Atmel stoops to an 'all-time low' in Internet of Things battle

Claims new microcontroller family is Cortex-M world's least power greedy silicon


Atmel reckons it has crafted the world's lowest-power ARM Cortex-M microcontrollers, a family of chips that can go for "decades" on the same batteries. The SAM-L21 family is aimed at "fire alarms, healthcare, medical, wearable, and devices placed in rural, agriculture, offshore and other remote areas."

Atmel says samples of SAM-L21 microcontrollers are in the hands in customers. The chips use just 35µA/MHz while active, and 200nA while in sleep mode, apparently, consuming less than 900nA while retaining 32KB of SRAM and running a real-time clock and calendar.

Being a Cortex-M0+-powered chip, the SAM-L21 is not particularly powerful: it tops out at 48MHz, and runs ARM Thumb (and some Thumb-2) code. But the family does pack a few features like USB interfacing, op-amps and comparators, DMA with peripherals, a random number generator, and AES cryptography in hardware, plus other bits and pieces.

The idea is for each chip to sleep, wake up when something happens, make a decision on whether or not it needs to alert the wider world, and then go back to sleep.

Constantly being in contact with its base over wired or wireless networking will drain its batteries; activating external electronics for power-hungry IP communications should only be done if its sensors detect something significant. Like an explosion or a fire.

This is for the Internet of relatively rarely disturbed Things. The SAM-L21 family looks like this:

  • ATSAML21E15A: ARM Cortex-M0+ based ultra-low-power microcontroller with 32KB Flash, 6KB SRAM, 48 MHz, six 16-bit timer/counters, DMA, four serial communication modules (SERCOMs, used for I2C, USART/UART and SPI), USB Host and Device, 10-channel 12-bit ADC, 2-channel 12-bit DAC, 32 pins
  • ATSAML21E16A: ARM Cortex-M0+ based ultra-low-power microcontroller with 64KB Flash, 12KB SRAM, 48 MHz, six 16-bit timer/counters, DMA, four SERCOMs, USB Host and Device, 10-channel 12-bit ADC, 2-channel 12-bit DAC, 32 pins
  • ATSAML21E17A: ARM Cortex-M0+ based ultra-low-power microcontroller with 128KB Flash, 24KB SRAM, 48 MHz, six 16-bit timer/counters, DMA, four SERCOMs, USB Host and Device, 10-channel 12-bit ADC, 2-channel 12-bit DAC, 32 pins
  • ATSAML21E18A: ARM Cortex-M0+ based ultra-low-power microcontroller with 256KB Flash, 40KB SRAM, 48 MHz, six 16-bit timer/counters, DMA, four SERCOMs, USB Host and Device, 10-channel 12-bit ADC, 2-channel 12-bit DAC, 32 pins
  • ATSAML21G16A: ARM Cortex-M0+ based ultra-low-power microcontroller with 64KB Flash, 12KB SRAM, 48 MHz, six 16-bit timer/counters, DMA, six SERCOMs, USB Host and Device, 14-channel 12-bit ADC, 2-channel 12-bit DAC, 48 pins
  • ATSAML21G17A: ARM Cortex-M0+ based ultra-low-power microcontroller with 128KB Flash, 24KB SRAM, 48 MHz, six 16-bit timer/counters, DMA, six SERCOMs, USB Host and Device, 14-channel 12-bit ADC, 2-channel 12-bit DAC, 48 pins
  • ATSAML21G18A: ARM Cortex-M0+ based ultra-low-power microcontroller with 256KB Flash, 40KB SRAM, 48 MHz, six 16-bit timer/counters, DMA, six SERCOMs, USB Host and Device, 14-channel 12-bit ADC, 2-channel 12-bit DAC, 48 pins
  • ATSAML21J16A: ARM Cortex-M0+ based ultra-low-power microcontroller with 64KB Flash, 12KB SRAM, 48 MHz, eight 16-bit timer/counters, DMA, six SERCOMs, USB Host and Device, 20-channel 12-bit ADC, 2-channel 12-bit DAC, 64 pins
  • ATSAML21J17A: ARM Cortex-M0+ based ultra-low-power microcontroller with 128KB Flash, 24KB SRAM, 48 MHz, eight 16-bit timer/counters, DMA, six SERCOMs, USB Host and Device, 20-channel 12-bit ADC, 2-channel 12-bit DAC, 64 pins
  • ATSAML21J18A: ARM Cortex-M0+ based ultra-low-power microcontroller with 256KB Flash, 40KB SRAM, 48 MHz, eight 16-bit timer/counters, DMA, 6 SERCOMs, USB Host and Device, 20-channel 12-bit ADC, 20-channel 12-bit DAC, 64 pins

The SAM L21 family will be released into the wild in September this year, we're told. ®

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