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Configurable Logic in Microcontrollers Revolutionizes Small Applications

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Introduction

MCUs are becoming more flexible as suppliers integrate more external components on chip. For engineers, this translates to a new set of tools and possibilities for embedded development. Configurable logic (CL) hardware is one of these relatively new add-ons to the MCU market.

 

The CL hardware implements combinatorial logic like the basic Boolean AND, OR, or XOR functions, as well as sequential logic like latches. This flexibility allows embedded programmers to add custom functionality with ease. From simple signal inverters to more complex Manchester decoders, the configurable logic can operate completely independently from the processor core (CPU). Since the configurable logic hardware is typically programmed in C, embedded designers do not need to learn another programming language like VHDL. 

 

MCUs with configurable logic reduce BOM costs and minimize board size by integrating off-chip glue logic. CPU resources are freed because configurable logic operates independently from the core. Also, the capabilities of other peripherals are extended when connected to CL. With all this flexibility, small, power-efficient MCUs can be used in applications previously exclusive to larger, fully-configurable devices like FPGAs or expensive ASICs.

 

To understand the capabilities of the highly-flexible features of configurable logic, this paper also explores the general operation of CL hardware on currently available MCUs, as well as how CL drives smaller and cheaper applications.

 

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