MPU provides space for large graphics buffers

30th May 2017
Alice Matthews

The 32-bit PIC32MZ DA microcontroller (MCU) family has been announced by Microchip, which it claims to be the industry’s first MCU with an integrated 2D Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) and up to 32MB of integrated DDR2 memory. This combination gives customers the ability to increase their application’s colour resolution and display size, up to 12" with easy-to-use microcontroller (MCU) based resources and tools including the MPLAB Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and MPLAB Harmony Software Framework.

The PIC32MZ DA family bridges the graphics performance gap between MCUs and microprocessor units (MPUs) for customers who want to stay in the familiar design environment of an MCU. The devices provide MPU-like graphics capabilities with the seamless integration and programming model of Microchip’s PIC32 and MPLAB IDE and Harmony software framework. These tools provide a visual graphics design environment, custom display driver creation, graphics libraries and an asset converter that can take a custom graphic and optimise it for their chosen display size.

Features of the new devices include:

  • Three-layer graphics controller capable of driving 24-bit colour Super eXtended Graphics Array (SXGA) displays
  • High-performance 2D Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
  • 32MB integrated SDRAM or 128MB externally addressable SDRAM option providing expansive storage 
  • Ample on-chip Flash, SRAM and connectivity option

The addition of DDR2 memory, a first for MCUs throughout the industry, enables 2x faster throughput and large graphics buffers and/or storage for increasingly complex communications protocol stacks and algorithms. The result is smooth, striking interfaces and fewer product variants in a crowded communications control market.

The PIC32MZ DA family is supported by Microchip’s MPLAB Harmony Integrated Software Framework, MPLAB X Integrated Development Environment (IDE), MPLAB XC32 Compiler for PIC32, MPLAB ICD 3 In-Circuit Debugger and MPLAB REAL ICE In-Circuit Emulation System.

Several additional tools are available including:

  • PIC32MZ Embedded Graphics with Stacked DRAM (DA) Starter Kit (DM320010) at $130
  • PIC32MZ Embedded Graphics with Stacked DRAM (DA) Starter Kit (Crypto) (DM320010-C) at $130
  • PIC32MZ Embedded Graphics with External DRAM (DA) Starter Kit (DM320008) at $140
  • PIC32MZ Embedded Graphics with External DRAM (DA) Starter Kit (Crypto) (DM320008-C) at $140

Devices in the PIC32MZ DA family are offered in a variety of package options including a 169-ball BGA, a 176-pin LQFP and a 288-ball BGA for external DDR2 applications. Devices in the family are available today in volume production.

Speaking at the PIC32 MZ DA launch event, Kurt Parker, Product Marketing Manager, Microchip, commented: “With the PIC32 MZ DA, Microchip are bringing true innovation in graphics and in memory, both of which are extremely important when targeting Human Machine Interface (HMI) and Graphical User Interface (GUI) applications.

“We have an industry leading three layer graphics controller capable of driving up to 24-bit colour and SXGA displays. This enables rich deep colour, high contrast and easy visibility for devices where the visual interface is important for either brand recognition or ease of recognition of controls in the industrial space.

“We’re also introducing the industry’s only fully featured 2D Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), which will enable capabilities which were only previously accessible in MPUs. We’re also integrating 32MB of high performance DRAM into the device, so for GUI designs, especially the kinds of designs that make use of 24-bits of colour and multiple frame buffers in large displays, lots of memory is needed. This 32MB of integrated DRAM, the only integration like it in the industry, is very important in these types of designs.

“We’ve taken this innovative product and we’ve wrapped it with Microchip’s industry leading software tools and framework. MpLAB  X and MPLAB Harmony give a whole product solution that makes this technology much more easily accessible.”

The importance of memory

Typical microcontrollers, including Microchip's PIC32s, carry about 500kB of SRAM on die. However, GUI designs require much more memory – anywhere between 3MB and 15+MB. Parker added: “This means of course that you usually need to go to an external memory to enable graphics applications. That means you have to source them, buy them and deal with a moving memory market in terms of pricing and availability. You also have to design them on board, which means you have to design a high speed interface for them, which means you have to dedicate board space to them, test and validate the board, and you have to add layers to the board.

“However, the PIC32MZ DA integrated memory alleviates all the frustration that comes with having to source that external high speed, high performance memory. We are the only microcontroller in the industry that provides this level of integration and memory in-package.”

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