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issue: October 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine

Technology Report
Connectivity Made Easy


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A new family of 8-bit microcontrollers features a built-in Ethernet controller, enabling designers to easily add connectivity to a range of applications.

Microchip (Chandler, Arizona, U.S.) has integrated an 8-bit microcontroller with a complete Ethernet controller, including MAC, PHY and transmit/receive RAM buffer, in 64- to 100-pin packages.

To provide embedded systems designers with a single-chip remote-communication solution, Microchip Technology has integrated a 10BASE-T Ethernet controller onto a 10 MIPS PIC18 microcontroller (MCU) with up to 128 Kbytes of Flash program memory. Available in small 64-pin packages, the PIC18F97J60 MCUs are said to be the world’s smallest 8-bit MCUs with a built-in IEEE 802.3-compliant Ethernet communications peripheral.
According to Nate Smith, product engineer, the real innovation behind the MCUs is that they have been optimized for the embedded market and feature an on-chip medium access controller (MAC) and physical layer device (PHY). “Some MCU manufactures have integrated only the digital logic portion of the transceiver, the MAC,” Smith explains. “However, even with the MAC on chip, you still have to interface the external PHY, which adds cost and complexity. While the integration of the MAC is quite straightforward, the PHY is mostly analog, and therefore, represents a significant development challenge.”
Smith says that Microchip understood the benefit of integrating the full transceiver and accepted the risk associated with the development effort in order to offer customers a single-chip solution. “We differentiate our Ethernet microcontroller by providing the necessary features while maintaining the flexibility needed for the majority of the target market,” he says. “The majority of applications will only require simple monitoring or control from a centralized, remote location. Thus, an overkill of vast amounts of program memory, RAM, and network speed is really not necessary.”
The MCUs feature up to 128 Kbytes of code space, which Smith says can accommodate TCP/IP stacks while maintaining ample code space for the specific application. He also says that 8 Kbytes of configurable buffer RAM efficiently manages the processing of transmit/receive data packets, and a 10BASE-T transceiver is more than fast enough for remote monitoring and control in applications where small data packets are sent infrequently.
Benefits of the single-chip solution include board space savings, quicker development time and reduced costs. Smith says several factors helped keep cost of the MCUs reasonable, including using a single-port Ethernet RAM buffer instead of a dual-port buffer, which requires more than twice the die area. The company also saved by utilizing a 10BASE-T Ethernet transceiver, which is smaller to implement and more cost-effective than a 100BASE-T transceiver.
While the simplicity of the MCUs makes them suitable for multiple embedded applications, one target market is the commercial kitchen. “There are many appliances in a commercial environment that could benefit from Ethernet connectivity,” Smith says. “Using Ethernet and standard Internet protocols, commercial kitchen equipment can communicate with a foodservice manager’s or service technician’s computer. Information regarding product/inventory management, asset management, labor management, food safety, and energy management can be sent or received bi-directionally.”
Other applications include building automation, home security and POS terminals.

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
Microchip Technology Inc.
 

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