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Microcontrollers add value to X86 processor designs
 
 

One or more 8-bit microcontrollers are typically included in the hardware of the X86 processor based industrial computers Hectronic develop. Microcontrollers are used for tasks such as monitoring and control of the power supply, re-starting of systems at sleep and advanced watchdog functionality. This use of microcontrollers is often called house-keeping.

 

Microcontrollers give access to independent processing power, which is extremely power efficient, programmable and thereby flexible and can be used to meet real-time constraints. These are resources and possibilities not limited to use in internal house-keeping activities. In fact microcontrollers are an excellent resource for numerous application specific tasks as well. I’d like to give you an idea how you can use them in your application.

 
A typical house-keeping task is to control how components and design blocks are started. The sequence when powering up the parts of the processor platform are critical. In some cases house-keeping microcontrollers also see to it that switched on voltages have reached the minimum levels before powering up the next blocks and components in the sequence.
 

Meeting real-time requirements

Examples on where the real-time aspects of the use of microcontrollers match application tasks are found in Process Control, Industrial Automation for instance motor control. An example from Test and Measurement would be sampling of GPIO ports, data collection involving processing where it’s crucial to obtain a result and communicate it within a maximum period of time.
 
Hectronic have designed an application for remote measurement and data processing powered by a battery only. The power of an X86 processor was definitely required when processing the data collected. Data collection on the other hand only required a rather basic microcontroller.
 
Keeping the X86 processor at sleep most of the time the microcontroller gathered data, performed some basic pre-processing calculations. On enough data being collected the X86 processor was awakened and given access to the data for processing. When finished with the task the X86 processor was put back to sleep. The strategy prolonged battery lifetime in the application significantly.
 

User interface with an 8-bit microcontroller

Another suitable task for a microcontroller would be a basic user interface. Hectronic used an 8-bit microcontroller in an application of a customer to control a user interface with a couple LEDs and buttons. 
 
Not much work for any microcontroller, but still a relevant example. In this case the microcontroller may also be used as a stand-alone user interface communicating via CAN. It would only slightly increase the complexity of the system while extending the level of flexibility significantly.
 
Microcontrollers can be used to realize serial interfaces like I2C, SPI, CAN and UARTS. Monitoring of temperatures and fan control are other examples. In addition microcontrollers are excellent at implementing GPIO interfaces of almost arbitrary sizes. There are a lot of possibilities. 
 
In an environment where a minimum or maximum temperature is required to start a system, a microcontroller can be used to run pre-heating or cooling before the system is started. In this way a cheap industrial temperature microcontroller can make sure the entire system does not need to meet the same temperature requirements.
 

Offering hardware and software design services

Hectronic uses 8-, 16- and 32-bit microcontrollers, all depending on application requirements. 8 bit microcontrollers have in most cases enough computing power for the applications used in the typical Hectronic design. In some cases 16 bit microcontrollers have been used in real-time applications with increased performance.
 
Most often Hectronic software engineers write code for the microcontrollers in the C programming language. Modern compilers are efficient enough to generate compact and efficient enough code. The typical code size of  the machine code in our customer’s microcontroller applications in the range of two to four kilobytes. 
 
Hectronic offers solutions involving microcontrollers for house-keeping in the modules, boards and systems we develop based on X86 processors. Our engineers also use microcontrollers when taking on challenges in the applications of our customers. Don’t hesitate to contact us for a discussion on how Hectronic can develop, produce and maintain an embedded system to meet the challenges you are facing on your market and how to use microcontrollers to improve your competitive edge.
 

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