Putting the micro in microcontroller

Posted March 2, 2006

Although my present microcontrollers of choice come from Atmel, I've used the PICs from Microchip a lot in the past, and for certain things they're still useful. Specifically, the PIC 10F series is somewhat unique: they're little 6-pin microcontrollers in virtually the same form factor as a normal transistor chip, by which I mean about 3 mm long! That's very tiny, but still hand solderable with care.

Granted, the capabilities are equally tiny... we're talking half a K of program memory and a maximum of 24 bytes of RAM, but sometimes you really need just a little bit of computation right on the spot. Heck, with this sort of form factor, you can almost just sprinkle them around your board design "just in case" as an impromptu signal conditioner. "Darn, I really meant to have that line be negative true... Hey, I'll just solder on a PIC over here and program it to invert that signal!" For a task like that, 24 bytes is even overkill, after all.

The new models even add a couple of ADCs, which means that now you have an ultra-miniature sensor platform. Just enough computation to read a value and shove it down a communications bus, with enough smarts left over to manage an intelligent sleep schedule for power management.

Now I just need to figure out how to manufacture circuit boards small enough to match.