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Copyright Ó 2001 All Rights Reserved.
March 2001
Contact for reprint and copy permission
In the past ten years an uncountable number of microcontroller and DSP architectures
have been introduced, abandoned, enhanced, expanded, copied, and redesigned. A
wide variety of embedded complexities are available for engineers' selection, from low-
end 4-bitters not too far removed from the 4004 to 64-bit systems-on-a-chip. In each
and every case, customer's time-to-market has become a critical factor as competition
for finished goods has become fierce. This has caused the embedded engineer’s
definition of what is a microcontroller or DSP "product" to expand based upon new
selection criteria for choosing products that will provide the shortest development cycle.
Besides the actual silicon, the embedded product definition has expanded to include:
Data sheets
Application notes
Availability and quality of technical support
Breadth of product roadmap
           and in what has become the most significant factor:
Availability and quality of development tools. 
Development tools have become one of the most important factors in choosing an
embedded core. The behavior and electrical properties of the core have become a
gating factor; after that, the next criteria is the availability, quality, and interoperability of
development tools. A 2000MIP  1mW SuperCore for 50 cents is completely useless if
the software engineer is unable to program it using the available compilers and
emulators. To the software engineer, the microcontroller or DSP is not just a square
piece of plastic - it exists in engineering reality in the user interface of his computer
screen and keyboard that hosts the hardware and software development tools. Focus
group studies have shown that the quality and interoperability of development tools is
now the second most significant selection criteria in core selection, after
This new complex definition of what a microcontroller or DSP product is nothing new for
established embedded vendors such as Motorola, Texas Instruments, and Microchip,
but for many other companies it is a new paradigm that is frustrating their push for new
The Rest Of the Story
All this may seem off the original theme, but what's at issue here is insuring that the
DSP or microcontroller being considered comes from a vendor that is committed to the
entire product support of your core. The hard reality is that using the selection criteria of
only looking at the technical merits of the silicon, important usability issues can be
overlooked that can have devastating consequences later in the development process.
I've received stories, both personally and through feedback from my website, where market windows have been missed resulting in reduced
sales volumes, projects cancelled, and customers have actually gone bankrupt
because they judged the architecture purely on technical merits. Choosing a core
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