Technical Article

DualCore dsPIC Digital Signal Controller Enables Separate Code Design and Seamless Integration

August 20, 2018 by Roland R. Ackerman

The dsPIC33CH digital signal controllers (DSC) with two dsPIC DSC cores in a single chip have been released by Microchip for high-end embedded control applications.

The dsPIC33CH digital signal controllers (DSC) with two dsPIC DSC cores in a single chip have been released by Microchip for high-end embedded control applications. One core within the device is designed to function as a master while the other is designed as a slave.

The slave core is useful for executing dedicated, time-critical control code while the master core is busy running the user interface, system monitoring, and communications functions, customized for the end application. The dsPIC33CH is designed specifically to facilitate independent code development for each core by separate design teams and allows seamless integration when they are brought together in one chip.


dsPIC33CH: Design separately, integrate seamlessly
Figure 1. With the dsPIC33CH, you can design separately and integrate seamlessly


Higher Switching Frequencies Allow Increased Power Density

The dsPIC33CH family is optimized for high-performance digital power, motor control, and other applications requiring sophisticated algorithms. This includes applications such as wireless power, server power supplies, drones and automotive sensors. For example, in a digital power supply, the slave core manages the math-intensive algorithms, while the master core independently manages the PMBus protocol stack and provides system monitoring functions, increasing overall system performance and responsiveness. Distributing the overall workload across two DSC cores in a single device enables higher power density through higher switching frequencies, leading to smaller components. The dsPIC33CH family was designed for live updating of the system, which is especially important for power supplies where firmware updates must be made with zero downtime.

In an automotive fan or pump, the slave core is dedicated to managing time-critical speed and torque control while the master manages the CAN-FD communications, system monitoring, and diagnostics. The two cores work seamlessly together, enabling advanced algorithms to improve efficiency and responsiveness. In addition, each of the new cores in dsPIC33CH devices has been designed to provide more performance than current dsPIC DSC cores through

  1. more context-selected registers to improve interrupt responsiveness, 
  2. new instructions to accelerate DSP performance, and
  3. faster instruction execution 

The dsPIC33CH family delivers unprecedented integration in a small 5 x 5 mm package and includes features such as CAN-FD communications. To reduce system costs and board size, advanced peripherals are available to each core including high-speed ADCs, DACs with waveform generation, analog comparators, analog programmable gain amplifiers and high-resolution PWM hardware. Having two cores, with dedicated peripherals, allows the cores to be programmed to monitor each other for functional safety reasons, facilitating robust system design.


Rich Development Ecosystem

The dsPIC33CH is supported by Microchip’s MPLAB development ecosystem including Microchip’s free, downloadable and award-winning MPLAB X Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and MPLAB Code Configurator. The dsPIC33CH Curiosity Board (DM330028), priced at $34.99 each, is a cost-effective and flexible platform enabling customers to rapidly create a feature-rich prototype. The dsPIC33CH Plug-in Module (PIM) for motor-control platforms (MA330039) is available for Microchip’s MCLV-2 and MCHV-2/3 systems and is priced at $25.00 each. The dsPIC33CH PIM for general-purpose platforms (MA330040), priced at $25.00 each, is now available for the Explorer 16/32 development board (DM240001- 2). The dsPIC33CH is available in eight package variants, from the 28-pin dsPIC33CH64MP202, to variants with 80 pins and variants as small as 5 x 5 mm. Memory sizes range from 64 to 128 KB of flash.

Microchip also announced the new SAM L10 and SAM L11 families of 32-bit microcontrollers (MCUs) which address the growing need for security in the Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints by protecting against the increasing risk of exposing intellectual property (IP) and sensitive information. The company provides a complete lifecycle, end-to-end security solution including security design partners.

With the increasing growth of IoT endpoints and, consequently, the increased frequency of security breaches, designers are looking for MCUs that can help reduce power consumption while adding robust security. The SAM L10 and L11 MCU family takes an innovative approach to solving these challenges by integrating a wide variety of peripherals, including security features, into the industry’s lowest power MCU in its class. This allows development of secured applications without the battery constraints of less power-efficient MCUs. These MCUs run at 32 MHz with memory configuration of up to 64 KB Flash and 16 KB SRAM. They come in two variant options: SAM L10 and SAM L11 and boast ultra-low power consumption as well as an enhanced Peripheral Touch Controller and advanced analog features. The SAM L11 variant adds integrated hardware security. They both come in 24- and 32-pin package options and are targeted for use in IoT and security, low power, capacitive touch and general-purpose embedded control applications.


dsPIC33CH128MP508 block diagram
Figure 2. dsPIC33CH128MP508 block diagram
SamL 10/100: Industry's lowest power in its class
Figure 3. Industry's lowest power in its class


The new devices unite a lot of functionality with unprecedented characteristics:

  • Combine industry’s best-in-class low power consumption and water-tolerant, noise-immune capacitive touch
  • Arm TrustZone enables hardware isolation between certified libraries, IP and application code
  • Robust security enabled by chip-level tamper resistance, secure boot, and secure key storage
  • Eco-system of trusted partners offers a security solution framework and secure provisioning

The new MCU families – SAM L10 as the general purpose variant and SAM L11 as enhanced secure variant – are based on the 32 MHz Arm Cortex-M23 core with up to 64 KB flash/16 KB RAM, with the SAM L11 featuring Arm TrustZone for Armv8-M, a programmable environment that provides hardware isolation between certified libraries, IP and application code. Microchip enables robust security by including chip-level tamper resistance, secure boot, and secure key storage which, when combined with TrustZone technology, protects customer applications from both remote and physical attacks.


Security Threats and Solutions

The SAM L11 includes numerous on-chip countermeasures to ensure industry-leading security in its performance class:

  • TrustZone and secure boot against software attacks like DDoS, malicious code injection, malicious access to memory/keys and intellectual property theft 
  • Secure bootloader and secure storage against vulnerable firmware upgrades, malware replacing genuine program and unprotected key storage for bootloaders
  • Chip-level tamper resistance and silent access against physical attacks like microprobing and side-channel attacks and crypto accelerator
  • Secure key storage against communication attacks like man-in-the-middle attacks and unprotected encryption keys 

In addition to TrustZone technology, the SAM L11 security features include an on-board cryptographic module supporting advanced encryption standard (AES), galois counter mode (GCM) and secure hash algorithm (SHA). The secure boot and secure key storage with tamper detection capabilities establish a hardware root of trust. It also offers secure bootloader for secure firmware upgrades.

Microchip has partnered with Trustonic, a member of Microchip’s Security Design Partner Program, to offer a comprehensive security solution framework that simplifies implementation of security and enables customers to introduce end products faster. Microchip has also partnered with Secure Thingz and Data I/O Corporation to offer secure provisioning services for SAM L11 customers that have a proven security framework.


Operating with the Lowest Power Consumption

When benchmarked for power consumption, the SAM L10 received a ULPMark score of 405, which is over 200 percent better performance than the nearest competitor certified by the Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium (EEMBC). Microchip uses proprietary picoPower technology to provide industry-leading low power consumption in active and all sleep modes. Both MCU families offer the industry’s lowest power consumption of less than 25 μA/MHz in active mode, less than 600 nA in sleep mode (full RAM retention) as well as less than 100 nA in shut down – complemented by fast wake-up times of 1.5 μs.


Touch Innovation

SAM L11 offers unprecedented touch solutions with best-in-class water tolerance against dew, sweat, and rain, running water and with IP68 rated products, also improving noise immunity. Both MCU families offer Microchip’s latest-generation Peripheral Touch Controller (PTC) for capacitive touch capabilities. It is four times faster than the previous generation of PTC and provides highly-responsive and accurate touch sensing. It is supported by the QTouch Configurator and QTouch Modular Library which make it simple to add elegant touch interfaces to your applications, such as:

  • Enhanced peripheral touch controller
  • Driven shield plus
  • Parallel acquisition
  • Buttons, wheels, sliders, and surfaces
  • Highly-responsive and accurate
  • Ultra-low power
  • Wake-up on touch
  • IEC/EN 61000 4-6, 10 V rms

Designers can easily add touch interfaces that provide an impressively smooth and efficient user experience in the presence of moisture and noise while maintaining low power consumption. The touch interface makes the devices ideal for a myriad of automotive, appliance, medical and consumer Human Machine Interface (HMI) applications.


Evaluation Kits Available

The SAM L10 (DM320204) and SAM L11 (DM320205) Xplained Pro evaluation kits, priced at $58.00 each, are available to kick-start development. They are fully supported with application demos with a trusted execution environment, a secure LoRa IoT node, and AWS enrollment through Trustonic.

All SAM L10/L11 MCUs are supported by the Atmel Studio 7 Integrated Development Environment (IDE), IAR Embedded Workbench, Arm Keil MDK as well as Atmel START, a free online tool to configure peripherals and software for accelerated development. START also supports TrustZone technology for configuring and deploying secure applications. A power debugger and data analyzer tool is available to monitor and analyze power consumption in real-time and fine-tunes the consumption numbers on-the-fly to meet application needs. Microchip’s QTouch Modular Library, 2D Touch Surface Library and QTouch Configurator are also available to simplify touch development.

The SAM L10 and SAM L11 devices are available today in a variety of pin counts and package options in volume production quantities.


About the Author

Roland R. Ackermann has been a technology journalist since 1957, covering electronics, engineering and manufacturing/automation. He has been a freelance journalist 1996, publishing work in Elektronik Journal, was editor in chief of Electronik Embedded System and verlagsweltMAGAZIN, and also wrote numerous articles in German and English publications and newspapers. He was a regular column writer in E&E Faszination Elektronik and is now a correspondent for Bodo's Power Systems. Ackermann holds talks at international venues, moderates panel discussions, and organizes events.


This article originally appeared in the Bodo’s Power Systems magazine.