Recent engineering headlines focus on exciting uses of 32-bit processors like the dual ARM Cortex-A9s in Apple’s iPad 2,A5 chip or NVIDIA® Tegra™ 2 in the Motorola Zoom and other Android tablets. But there’s an unsung hero who still has a role to play in today’s mobile, feature-happy world: the 8-bit 8051 microcontroller.
Intel introduced the MCS-51 single-chip microcontroller in 1980. Its architecture included many critical functions in one package, including CPU, memory, interfaces, interrupts and timers.
Through the ‘80s and ‘90s, several vendors went on to offer MCS-51 compatible variants—often running faster or including more functions than the original—and they served as the brains for a wide variety of successful products.
Today, 8051s are still available as discrete parts, but they’re mostly used as IP cores. Available in soft high-level language source code or firm FPGA netlist formats, these cores are typically integrated within large embedded systems. But why would you use one？