Optimizing embedded designs with configurable mixed-signal ICs and asynchronous state machines

February 22, 2017 // By Michael Noonen
Systems on a Chip for embedded devices offer an astounding level of integration. Advanced processes give SoC and MCU developers plenty of transistors to work with. These devices can integrate multi-core processors, wireless connectivity, memory as well as graphics controllers. However, even the most sophisticated and highly integrated SoC or MCU requires some external circuitry for power management, human interface or connecting to sensors.

As a result, there are almost always comparators, op amps, level shifters, various logic and discrete transistors scattered across a design. These SoCs are almost never truly Systems on a Chip. In some cases, the support logic needed can be swept up into a low-end FPGA. But usually this is not a cost saving over discrete components. It is also an inadequate solution since an FPGA cannot address the analog or discrete components.

For an embedded device, this challenge will be even more pronounced as an MCU or SoC cannot address all the possible sensor, power, and connectivity options. This is further complicated by the fact that any one embedded device will be much lower-volume than an SoC for a mobile phone application. Therefore, a typical MCU or SoC vendor will not be justified in spending the large sums needed to design and fabricate a device to support all the necessary permutations and integrate the required surrounding support circuitry.

So, are designers forced to put up with sub-optimal designs with stray logic, overpriced analog and space-consuming discretes? Will the next generation of embedded devices surrender valuable space and be burdened by a bloated bill of materials?

The answer is happily “No”, thanks to the emergence of Configurable Mixed-Signal ICs (CMICs). These devices are a clever matrix of analog and digital circuit functions that are configurable through One-Time-Programmable (OTP) Non-Volatile Memory.

The pioneer and leader of this new category of devices is Silego Technology who introduced CMICs in 2009. Since then, Silego has completed over 1,300 customer designs and shipped over 2 billion configurable devices. Silego’s CMICs offer a variety of analog and digital resources that a designer can configure into mixed-signal circuits. These include asynchronous state machines, timing delays counters, pulse width modulators, comparators, voltage monitors, voltage references, ADCs, glue logic and level shifters.

Designers can drag and drop these resources and “wire up” their design in a schematic capture tool, or they can emulate the design with Silego's hardware development kit. When they are satisfied with the design, they can program the CMIC device with the on-board OTP memory. CMICs can be used for a variety of essential mixed-signal functions ranging from motor and fan control, to sensor interfaces and power sequencing.

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