From the movie Live and Let Die:
Mr. Big: "Sell" heroin, for money?!
James Bond: My apologies. I'm sure you simply give it away.
Mr. Big: Excellent, Mr Bond. That's precisely what I intend to do. Two tons of it, to be exact. When entering into a fiercely competitive field, one finds it advisable to give away free samples.
The Arm microcontrollers are not really addictive but the field is fiercely competitive. Platforms like the venerable 8-bit platforms like 8051 still exist but the Arm Cortex-Mx is where it is at these days as the 32-bit platform has become more power efficient, more compact (see The Tiny Cortex-M0+ Just Got Smaller) and more economical. Combine this with a more advanced programming environment and one can see why people are moving to 32-bit chips.
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Actually most semiconductor companies are giving their chips away for free if you want one or two for developing a prototype but they would like to charge you if you want a few thousand, or more. And there are definitely a lot of takers.
Silicon Labs has been a primary player in the microcontroller field with a line of 8051 micros that goes way back. They are a relative new comer to the Arm side of thing but they brought some significant peripheral technology from their 8-bit products to the 32-bit side of things.
They also have made it easier to pack a chip into just about anything (see Buy A Wafer - Use A Die). That is if you want to deal with the dies yourself. Until now, the Cortex-M3 was their 32-bit offering. The latest move has been to pick up Energy Micro.
Energy Micro is a new comer, relatively speaking, with a portfolio that is exclusively ARM-based. That portfolio is quite impressive running from tiny Cortex-M0 through Cortex-M4 chips. There is a good mix of wireless options with its Draco Radio.
I've written about Energy Micro and their Gecko line. They have some impressive processor and peripheral technology. From its name, you might guess that power efficiency is important to them. It is and they do a lot of things that many other Arm vendors do not. They have low power and ultra low power peripherals often mixing the same kind on one chip. For example, they may have a high speed serial port and a more energy efficient version that runs at a lower speed. They can also run many of their peripherals without processor control allowing the latter to sleep until needed.
I am not a financial maven so I can't comment on the price that Silicon Labs is paying but in terms of value the blend of Silicon Labs and Energy Micro will be impressive. Silicon Labs brings some impressive Precision analog peripherals to the mix. It's Cortex-M3 line will eventually merge with Energy Micros but the nice things is that the processor cores are functionally identical.
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Silicon Labs really needed to expand its line or buy one. It decided to pay the bucks to get one of the best. I expect things only to improve once the two merge.
The number of Arm microcontroller players is now a little smaller. The consolidation should make the resulting combination more effective. I am definitely looking forward to their next product announcement once they get the company details out of the way.