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MCU vendors gun for lower power processing

26 Mar 2015  | Rich Quinnell

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Just one data point

Meanwhile, benchmark scores will undoubtedly continually improve. But everyone agrees that these scores are only a starting point for developers seeking the lowest-power device for their design. "The ULP benchmark isn't 100 per cent fair; no benchmark can ever be," Eieland said. "But it does take a lot of the marketing out of low power, and it gives you a relative comparison you can use."

 EEMBC ULPBench process

Part of the EEMBC ULPBench process, but also suitable for independent use, the EnergyMonitor board provides a precise power profile of an active MCU.

"The ULP benchmark is a single number that gives you a great starting point for evaluation," said STMicro's Stuart, "but you need to look at your own application. Every low-power application is different in terms of how much time it's in sleep mode, how much running at a high clock speed, at a lower clock speed, and the like. You need to understand your application's profile."

EEMBC's Levy added that simply focusing on a "winning score" misses the mark. "There are always trade-offs to be made. So, we encourage folks to publish their scores regardless of their ranking." The profile published with the results can then help developers determine which results are most applicable to their use case.

Vendors are also helping developers refine their selection process beyond the benchmark. STMicro, for instance, offers the STM32 Cube MX power simulator for estimating the power a given STMicro MCU will use when executing the developer's code. Texas Instruments offers its EnergyTrace+ technology for evaluating the energy use of its MCUs. And EEMBC's EnergyMonitor can be used by developers to profile the energy use of their own code as well as when running the ULPBench benchmark.

Meanwhile the benchmark will continue to evolve, according to Levy. "Right now the benchmark focuses on the CPU and RTC. Improvements we're working on will involve more peripheral activity, like the ADC and PWM." The benchmark's phase two working group, chaired by TI's Stefan Schauer, welcomes additional participation. Interested parties can email [email protected] with the subject line EEMBC ULPBench Working Group Information to learn more.

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