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Freescale Kinetis Family Connects with ARM MCUs

June 28, 2010

Last week at the Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) in Orlando, FL, Freescale announced a new MCU product line, Kinetis, based on the ARM Cortex M4 core. Kinetis is scalable low-power and mixed signal design. Freescale is expected to introduce seven new Kinetis MCU families over the course of the next 12 months. There will be over 200 pin, peripheral and software compatible devices.

Freescale integrates mixed signal capabilities in Kinetis in order to target consumer and industrial applications. ARM had developed the Cortex M3 for MCUs. The Cortex M4 was announced by ARM in February 2010. Freescale is a lead partner in the development of the M4. In April 2010, NXP announced future MCUs based on the Cortex M4. Freescale will sample Kinetis in 3Q 2010 with production in 1H 2011.

The Cortex M4 is an extension of the M3. The M4 includes DSP functionality. The Kinetis software will be backwards compatible with M3. Therefore, Freescale decided to jump into ARM MCUs with the M4 rather than put resources into an M3 version.

Semico Spin

My immediate reaction to the Kinetis announcement was, “Well, it’s about time!” I wondered what was taking so long. Freescale has been a long time partner with ARM, going back to its days as Motorola. The company has a successful i.MX ARM MPU line that has been shipping in smartphones, infotainment, and eReaders. The ARM MCU has grown quickly. The ARM architecture has the highest growth rate among 32-bit MCUs. There are about 10 ARM licensees shipping MCU versions. In total, ARM represents about one-quarter of the unit volume of 32-bit MCUs.

Freescale has been a long time leader in 32-bit MCUs. The company has a long history with ARM. Freescale began looking at such a product about 2 years ago. The product definition started almost a year ago.

Freescale has a strong reputation for its customer support, application knowledge and development tools, including software. An ARM-based MCU allows Freescale customers to tap into a large third party ecosystem.

Will Kinetis freeze out ColdFire?

At the same time as the Kinetis announcement, ColdFire+ was announced. This MCU is an extension of the current product line. ColdFire in turn is an extension of the venerable 68K architecture.

The question was raised immediately if Kinetis signals an end to ColdFire. Freescale would not put resources into ColdFire+ if this were the case. Both Coldfire+ and Kinetis will be manufactured on a new 90nm process. There will be more than 40 new versions of ColdFire+ rolling out – samples in 4Q 2010, production 1H 2011.

Freescale has a long history of supporting product families for decades. Customers have made major investments in designs based on ColdFire, most notably software. There are applications better suited to ARM than ColdFire. The product lines offer different price and performance choices. Thus, ColdFire will likely be around for a very long time.

Kinetis opens up new opportunities for Freescale. The company has joined a fast growing segment of the 32-bit MCU market.

Tony Massimini
Chief of Technology

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