What’s The Deal With Atmel And Microchip?

It’s been nearly a year since Microchip acquired Atmel for $3.56 Billion. As with any merger, acquisition, or buyout, there has been concern and speculation over what will become of the Atmel catalog, the Microchip catalog, and Microchip’s strategy for the coming years.

For the Hackaday audience, this is a far more important issue than Intel’s acquisition of Altera, On Semi and Fairchild, and even Avago’s purchase of Broadcom in the largest semiconductor deal in history. The reason Microchip’s acquisition of Atmel is such an important issue is simply due to the fact the Hackaday community uses a lot of their parts. This was a holy war, and even changing the name of a line of chips to ‘MCMega’ would result in a consumer rebellion, or at least a lot of very annoying tweets.

For the record, I’ve tried my best to figure out what’s going on with Microchip’s acquisition of Atmel for the last few months. I’ve talked to a few Microchip reps, a few Atmel reps, and talked to a few ‘out of band’ connections – people who should know what’s going on but aren’t directly tied to either Atmel or Microchip. The best I’ve come up with is a strange silence. From my perspective, it seems like something is going on, but no one is saying anything.

Take the following with several grains of salt, but Microchip recently got in touch with me regarding their strategy following their Atmel acquisition. In a few thousand words, they outlined what’s going on in casa Microchip, and what will happen to the Atmel portfolio in the future.

Broad Strokes

In broad strokes, the Microchip PR team wanted to emphasize a few of the plans regarding their cores, software, and how Microchip parts are made obsolete. In simple, bullet point terms, this is what Microchip passed on to me, to pass on to you:

  • Microchip will continue their philosophy of customer-driven obsolescence. This has historically been true – Microchip does not EOL parts lightly, and the state of the art from 1995 is still, somewhere, in their catalog.
  • We plan to support both Atmel Studio 7 and MPLAB® X for the foreseeable future.
  • Microchip has never focused on “one core”, but rather on the whole solution providing “one platform.” This is also true. A year ago, Microchip had the MIPS-based PIC-32 cores, a few older PIC cores, and recently Microchip has released a few ARM cores. Atmel, likewise, has the family tree of 8 and 32-bit AVR cores and the ARM-based SAM cores.
  • We will continue to support and invest in growing our 8-bit PIC® and AVR MCU product families.


In addition to the broad strokes outlined above, Microchip also sent along a few questions and answers from Ganesh Moorthy, Microchip’s President and COO. These statements dig a little bit deeper into what’s in store for the Microchip and Atmel portfolios:

How will the 32-bit products complement each other? Atmel has a few 32-bit microcontrollers, like the SAM and AT32 series. Microchip has the PIC-32. The answer to this question is, “Many of the 32-bit MCU products are largely complementary because of their different strengths and focus.  For example, the SAM series has specific families targeting lower power consumption and 5 volts where PIC32 has families more optimally suited for audio and graphics solutions. We plan to continue investing in both SAM and PIC32 families of products.

Will Atmel’s START support 8-bit AVRs? “Yes, although it is too early to commit to any specific dates at this stage, we consider modern rapid prototyping tools, such as START and the MPLAB Code Configurator, strategic for the our customers to deliver innovative and competitive solutions in this fast-paced industry.”

Now that Microchip has a complete portfolio of low-power, inexpensive 32-bit microcontrollers, will the focus on 8-bit product be inevitably reduced? No, we see that in actual embedded control applications there is still a large demand for the type of qualities that are uniquely provided by an 8-bit product such as: ease-of-use, 5V operation, robustness, noise immunity, real-time performance, long endurance, integration of analog and digital peripherals, extremely low-static power consumption and more. We don’t think that the number of bits is an appropriate / sufficient way to classify a complex product such as the modern microcontroller. We believe that having the right peripherals is actually what matters most.”

Security, Memories, WiFi, and Analog products. For both Atmel and Microchip, the most visible products in each of their portfolios is the lineup of microcontrollers. This isn’t the limit of their portfolios, though: Atmel has space-grade memories, Microchip has some very useful networking chips, and both companies have a number of security and crypto chips. In the statements given by Moorthy, very little will change. The reason for this is the relative lack of overlap in these devices. Even in segments where there is significant overlap, no EOLs are planned, circling back to the, “philosophy of customer-driven obsolescence.” In other words, if people keep buying it, it’s not going away.

The Takeaway

What is the future of Microchip post-Atmel acquisition? From what I’m seeing, not much. Microchip is falling back on their philosophy of ‘customer-driven obsolescence’. What does that mean? Any non-biased assessment of Microchip’s EOL policy is extremely generous. The chip found in the Basic Stamp 1, from 1993, is still available. It’s not recommended for new designs, but you can still buy it. That’s impressive any way you look at it.

The one thing we’re not getting out of this pseudo press release is information about what Atmel will be called in a few years. Will the Atmel mark be subsumed by a gigantic letter ‘M’? Will the company retain two different trademarks? There is no public information about this.

Yes, I know this post is a nearly verbatim copy of a pseudo press release. I’m not particularly happy this information was presented to me this way, but then again, the Atmel/Microchip ecosystem has been impressively secretive. This is the only information that exists, though, and I’m glad to have it in any event.

That said, there are a lot of people in the Hackaday community that want to know what the deal is with Microchip and Atmel. Short of pulling Jerry Seinfeld out of retirement, this is the best we’re going to get for now. Of course, if you have any info or speculation, the comments below are wide open.

AVR vs PIC, Round 223: Fight!

Get ready to rumble! [Thierry] made the exact same Hello-World-esque project with two microcontrollers (that are now technically produced by the same firm!) to see how the experience went.

It’s not just an LED-blinker, though. He added in a light-detection function so that it only switches on at night. It uses the Forest Mims trick of reverse-biasing the LED and waiting for it to discharge its internal capacitance. The point is, however, that it gives the chip something to do instead of simply sleeping.

Although he’s an AVR user by habit, [Thierry] finds in favor of the PIC because it’s got a lower power draw both when idling and when awake and doing some computation. This is largely because the PIC has an onboard low-power oscillator that lets it limp along at 32 kHz, but also because the chip has a lower power consumption in general. In the end, it’s probably a 10% advantage to the PIC on power.

If you’re competent with one of the two chips, but not the other, his two versions of the same code would be a great way to start familiarizing yourself with the other. We really like his isDarkerThan() function which makes extensive use of sleep modes on both chips during the LED’s discharge period. And honestly, at this level the code for the two is more similar than different.

(Oh, and did you notice [Thierry]’s use of a paper clip as a coin-cell holder? It’s a hack!)

Surprisingly, we’ve managed to avoid taking a stray bullet from the crossfire that occasionally breaks out between the PIC and AVR fans. We have covered a “shootout” before, and PIC won that round too, although it was similarly close. Will the Microchip purchase of Atmel calm the flames? Let’s find out in the comment section. We have our popcorn ready!

Ping Pong Spectrum Analyzer

A spectrum analyzer is a pretty useful tool for working with signals where the size of the frequency components matter. Usually, the display is a screen. Sometimes, you see it done with LEDs. [Mag Laboratories] did it with ping pong balls.

The device uses a processor to calculate a Fourier transform, cutting an audio signal into 16 frequency bands. The processor converts each of these values to a PWM output that drives small fans. The fans blow the ping pong ball up the tube proportional to the fan speed. You can see the result in the video below.

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Hackaday Links: April 17, 2016

There have been really cool happenings in the CNC world for the past few years. There is a recent trend of portable, handheld CNC machines. Yes, you read that correctly. This SIGGRAPH paper demonstrated a handheld router with a camera and a few motors that would make slight corrections to the position of the router. Load in a .DXF or other vector file, and you become the largest CNC machine on the planet. We saw it at one of the Maker Faires, and about a year ago the team soft launched. Apparently, the Shaper router is gearing up for production and [Ben Krasnow] got the first look with a full 17-minute demonstration of [Ben] fabricating parts out of aluminum. It looks like a great tool, and we can’t wait to see this thing in production.

Octoprint is the best way to give a 3D printer a web interface. The dev for Octoprint, [Gina Häußge] used to have a sponsor for developing Octoprint. They’re gone now, which means it’s time for [Gina] to start a Patreon. If you use Octoprint, you know it’s worth more than a dollar a month.

Really bad USB power supplies are nothing new around these parts. There are cheap USB supplies that don’t have any fuses, don’t have any circuit protection, and are noisy as hell. This is the worst USB power supply the Internet has to offer. It’s from one of the relatively new designs of USB power supplies that steps down mains voltage to five USB A ports. [bigclive]’s teardown revealed this was passing half wave mains voltage to the USB ports. It can light up a light bulb. It can kill your phone. The fault? A pinhole in the insulation between the windings of the transformer.

Electronic conference badges are getting excessive, but they can be so much cooler. Here’s Atmel’s take on a high-end conference badge. It has a display, sensors, WiFi, Bluetooth, runs Android, and has 512MB of RAM, 4GB of Flash. It’s a freakin’ mini tablet meant to last for three days.

Speaking of Atmel, they’re having a few growing pains in the merger with Microchip. Employees coming to Microchip from Atmel are getting their severance benefits cut in half. Apparently, the severance benefits given to Atmel employees were not communicated to Microchip before the merger.

Raspberry Pi Zeros are back in production. There’s also going to be a mysterious new feature. Is it WiFi? No, it’s confirmed not to be WiFi. How about Ethernet? Bluetooth? an RTC? Full size HDMI port? Actual pin headers? Audio port? Improved CPU / RAM? No, children. It’s none of these.

C.H.I.P., the nine dollar computer that made some waves last summer, has on-board Flash storage. That means you don’t need to put an image on an SD card. The folks behind C.H.I.P. have recently improved the method for flashing a new OS onto their tiny board: a Chrome plugin. Yes, this sounds completely bizarre, but Chrome plugins are becoming increasingly popular for USB gadget wizardry. You can program an Arduino with Chrome and log USB power profiles with a USB tester and Chrome. You will ride eternal, shiny and chrome.

Hackaday Links: April 10, 2016

Spot the mirrored mac
Spot the mirrored Mac

Here is the best Mac mod we’ve ever seen. [Doogie] decided to take an Apple G5 Quad to the max. This means maintaining the liquid cooling setup, adding the max amount of RAM (16 GB), adding a Sonnet Tempo 6.0Gb PCI-e card and two Samsung 840 Pro SSDs, and an Nvidia Geforce 6600GT. The best part about this Mac? Instead of the classic anodized aluminum, [Doogie] polished the case to a mirror finish. Here’s a video of the entire build. The computer is currently serving up his webpage, and if you want to see how the server load test is going, you can check out the stats page here.

Hackaday links posts are where we put interesting kickstarters and crowdfunding projects, and this one is near the top. It’s a crowdfunding campaign for a glassblowing workshop in England. If this project is funded, people can come repair their scientific glassware, make new tubes, or take a glassblowing workshop. It’s not quite a crowdfunding campaign for a business (perhaps it should be?), but maybe someone out there has a glass lathe they can donate.

A few months ago, Microchip acquired Atmel for $3.56 Billion. There’s a lot of overlap in both company’s portfolios, leading many to wonder which products would be EOL’ed and removed from the market. This week, Microchip released a statement on the acquisition (PDF), and spelled out what to expect from the product line. It’s good news:

We know that stability and growth in manufacturing is an important consideration from a supply base, and it has been one of the key elements that Microchip has executed well throughout its 25+ year life. We will honor that concept in this integration activity as well. We also recognize that product End-of-Life may be one of your concerns in any acquisition, including this one. Microchip has a practice and track record of not putting products on End-of-Life, and it is our intent to continue to offer the complete portfolio of products from both companies.

On April 5th, Makerbot announced it has sold more than 100,000 3D printers worldwide. Sounds like quite an accomplishment, right? Wrong. From December 31, 2014 to April 5, 2016 – fifteen months – Makerbot has sold only 20,094 printers. Sales figures are hard to come by (I’m working on this), but Lulzbot is outselling Makerbot given one of their latest press releases and basic math. There will be more on this after Stratasys releases their 2015 yearly report (on May 9), but I’m calling this the beginning of the end for Makerbot.

Here’s a Kickstarter for a laser cutter. The first reward that will get you a laser cutter is €1.300, “a special 50% early bird Kickstarter discount off the estimated retail price.” That means this is a $3000 laser cutter. What does that get you? A five watt ‘shortwave’ laser, 20×16″ working area, and a software interface that actually looks rather good.

Microchip Publishes USB Mass Storage Loader

Microchip just published their USB-MSD Programmer firmware. This open source project allows a board to enumerate as a USB Mass Storage device. Programming is as simple as copying a .hex file to the “drive”.

This code is what’s running on the $10 Xpress board that they released last month which includes a PIC18F25K50 to serve as a PICkit On Board (PKOB) programmer for the actual target micro; a PIC16F18855. In its stock version, the XPRESS-Loader firmware programs any PIC16F188xx chips that have a row size of 32 words. But it should be possible to tweak this package to program any chips that use the 8-bit LVP-ICSP protocol.

Now, this may seem like small potatoes at first look: it requires two microcontrollers on your board and is capable of programming just a small subset of the vast PIC inventory. But in our minds it’s the USB-MSD that is killer since it doesn’t require any software or drivers on the computer side of things. That’s a big invitation for all kinds of hacks. But there should be even more on the way from the Xpress team before too long.

It turns out the microcontroller [Voja Antonic] chose to use on the Hackaday | Belgrade badge is the 25k50. Since hearing about the Xpress board we’ve been talking to some of the PIC engineers and they are exploring a loader that will program onto the same chip. This means device upgrades without special hardware or drivers – perfect for badge hacking at a conference. This can be done with a precompiled hex, one created on MPLAB X, MPLAB Xpress, or others. We’ll keep you updated if we hear more on that part of the project.

Microchip Unveils Online MPLAB IDE and $10 Board

Today, Microchip released a few interesting tools for embedded development. The first is a free online IDE called MPLAB Xpress, the second is a $10 dev board with a built-in programmer. This pair is aimed at getting people up and running quickly with PIC development. They gave us an account before release, and sent over a sample board. Let’s take a look!

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