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What's Microchip doing to the PIC32?

Initial disclaimer: All this is my own personal supposition. I have no proof of anything, and I don't know anything.

So what is Microchip doing with the PIC32? What are their plans for the future of these lovely microcontrollers?

With the acquisition of Atmel a few years back Microchip seem to have been concentrating most of their efforts on the ARM and AVR based chips. They have assimilated the old Atmel products into their catalog and started producing new chips based around the old AVR and ARM architectures. But what about the PIC32? After a brief splurge of new chips with the PIC32MK and PIC32MM series not a lot has happened. And I suspect that a lot of that lethargy has been to do with the floundering of MIPS.

MIPS own the ISA that the core of the PIC32 is based on, and they license that ISA (Instruction Set Architecture) to Microchip for their PIC32 devices. But MIPS are dying. They just can't compete against the might of ARM. But there is light at the end of the tunnel for MIPS. Rumours on the grapevine have it that MIPS are dropping the MIPS architecture (yes, still supporting legacy products, but not producing anything new). Instead they are throwing their lot in with the RISC-V crowd. They look to be transitioning the company from a purely ISA-licensing house to a RISC-V services consultancy. A company that exists to aid other companies in adopting and adapting RISC-V to their own needs.

And that makes sense: RISC-V and MIPS are such closely related architectures that MIPS would be in a good position to rapidly become the industry leading experts. Maybe even providing their own plug-together designs of the RISC-V system to companies.

And of course that means a great opportunity for Microchip as one of the current largest consumers of MIPS: to transition their MIPS based products to RISC-V based products. Not only will it give them a cutting edge core to their latest designs, but the licensing terms are also considerably more favourable than the existing MIPS and ARM licenses: essentially free.

I can see the PIC32M range of chips being gradually phased out and sidelined, to be replaced by PIC32R (or PIC32V) chips. Initially probably like-for-like replacements for existing "modern" PIC32 chips, such as maybe a PIC32RX270F256D to mirror the PIC32MX270F256D, which could act as direct drop-in replacements for the existing MIPS based chips. This would drive more rapid adoption of the new chips allowing them to drop the older chips sooner, and thus more quickly reduce the burden of the MIPS licensing fees.

Would they go the same route with the ARM based chips? I think that's unlikely. The beauty of RISC-V is that it is so similar to MIPS, so changing from one architecture to the other is going to be only a small amount of work, for both Microchip and end users. But switching from ARM to RISC-V would be a nightmare to implement.

So in summary: I can see Microchip phasing out the PIC32M chips in favour of like-for-like replacement PIC32R chips, and then introduce new chips as RISC-V only.

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