32 bit CPUs: Great for computers; Overkill in thermostats

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Thanks to Moore’s Law, many modern 32-bit microprocessors are about the same price as relatively ancient 8-bit devices. But when you factor in design time and system complexity, the true cost of a 32-bit implementation becomes apparent.

If today’s engineers had a motto, it might well be, “Honey, I shrunk the computer.” Semiconductors have become so inexpensive that the average house now contains dozens of devices containing microprocessors, software and memory; in other words, computers.

We’ve gotten so used to “ubiquitous computing” that engineers working on bringing wireless connectivity to even the simplest household devices — thermostats; security systems; irrigation controls — all too often start the design process by choosing which Linux distribution they’ll use and which 32-bit chip they will use it on.

In other words, they start by designing a computer. But they are making a big mistake, as there are many easier ways of going wireless.

General purpose computers, by their very nature, need to be extremely complex. Even a seemingly simple Linux-based embedded system has hundreds of thousands of lines of code; writing, debugging and verifying such a system takes considerable time, and odds are high that even with the most experienced programmer, something will be overlooked along the way. That’s why we occasionally need to reboot our computer. But who has ever rebooted a thermostat?

Many engineers believe that this sort of complexity is the inevitable price to be paid to internet connect a device. That’s because they may only be familiar with the standard techniques used in PCs. But at Arrayent, we offer many internet connectivity options that don’t require upgrading to the added cost and complexity of advanced microprocessor designs. While we fully support all manner of microprocessors, many of our customers continue to use 8-bit CPUS even while they make their products accessible via web applications and smart phones.

One of Arrayent’s most important design philosophies is the computing complexity belongs “in the cloud,” and not in the device. If you are in the business of, say, home lighting, there is no reason you should have to master all the intricacies of radio communications before you can make a product your customers will find useful. With Arrayent, you don’t; we’ve solved all those technical challenges for you, but in a way that keeps your core products exceedingly simple and that’s the best path to reliability and a great price point.

While early personal computers like the Apple II were 8-bit machines, no one would dream of using such a computer today. But the same dynamics aren’t true in the rest of electronics. Big computer companies might boast about their fancy 64-bit machines, but at Arrayent, our goal is for you to be able to brag about how you’ve managed to do more with eight bits than anyone every thought possible.