The modern CPU is a remarkable thing. Intel’s newest i7 offering has 4 64 bit 4.0 GHz cores in a package just under 1.5 inches by 1.5 inches, individual features on the chip measure just 22 nm across (1/4 the size of a virus!). A modest new laptop can outperform the mightiest supercomputers of the 80’s and early 90’s.
Despite all of this, computer CPUs make up barely 2% of the processors manufactured each year, 55% of the market is carried by simple 8 bit microprocessors and micro-controllers (a micro-controller contains both a processor and memory) that can be bought for as little as $0.25 each. The typical American household has dozens of devices running micro-controllers: wireless devices, children’s toys, USB flash drives, any gadget with an LCD display, all of them are managed by a tiny computer. New cars have upwards of 30 micro-controllers on board as driver aids and dynamic suspensions grow in sophistication.
At FreshTemp we use the ATMEGA 328-P to run our devices. It is a powerful and inexpensive 8 bit micro-controller with extensive support available for software development, and excellent power consumption numbers. 8 bit processors have been on the market for over 40 years, but as demand for USB and wireless devices grows and sensors are getting embedded in just about everything, they could be thriving in another 40.