Technology
Microchip takeover of Atmel off

Atmel chips in action

I’ve heard concerns from microcontroller hackers that a takeover by Microchip could hinder the openness of Atmel’s microcontrollers. Atmel’s AVR microcontrollers are used in many of the Open Source Hardware projects we carry in the Maker Shed, such as MiniPOV, Arduino, and the Mignonette Kit, pictured above.

So is this good news or bad news?

CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) — Chip maker Microchip Technology Inc. said Tuesday it is no longer interested in buying Atmel Corp., another chip maker, and is withdrawing a slate of directors it had nominated to its board.

Microchip said the global economy, along with the chip industry, has “deteriorated significantly” since it first made an offer of $5 per share in October.

Microchip Technology drops Atmel bid [via rolfvw on SFmicrocontrollers]

32 thoughts on “Microchip takeover of Atmel off

  1. All of the open-source hardware is not related to the manufacturer. The only way this would be bad is if they stopped making the Atmega8. If the Atmega8 lived through the initial purchase (aka it was not sold off to another company), then the purchase would have been a VERY GOOD thing. Microchip has an excellent history of keeping products around Forever. You can still buy some of the very first Microchip products.

    Note: The ATmega8 is similar to the PIC18, but the ATmega8 seems to beat it on price and on interrupt management.

  2. Why spread the misconception that Microchip would close the AVR documentation? Microchip was releasing detailed datasheets without requiring an NDA long before Atmel. In fact, at one time, Atmel was downright hard to approach.

    Sure, the Arduino-loving crowd swears by Atmel, but the PIC is good too, and Microchip has spent a lot of money and effort to make sure that their chips are easy to start using.

  3. @CaladanJen, that’s why I asked “So is this good news or bad news?” I’m interested in hearing what you think. There’s a difference between spreading concerns (ill-founded or not) and reporting that they exist.

  4. While we are on the subject, has anyone else noticed the massive price drop on the ATmega8 for quantity of 1? Maybe I’m thinking of a different part (my last purchase was over a year ago), but these used to be $10+ when buying from Mouser or Digikey. Now I can get them for less than $4 each. Am I just getting old, or has there been a price decrease?

  5. This actually really sucks for Atmel and the Arduino folks. Atmel is hanging on by a thread. Their financials are terrible:

    http://atml.client.shareholder.com/financials-KeyRatios.cfm

    Negative earnings, paltry sales, no cash on hand to speak of. With the current economy, I’m calling Chapter 11 in less than a year.

    Which in the end is probably a good thing. I’m not quite clear why people are messing around w/ 8 bit micros when you can get faster 32 bit micros such as the ARM STR781xF chip with lots more memory, IO and USB built in for just under $5 each vs $5 total for the ATMega168 and the USB FTDI chip, as used in the Duemilanove.

    About the only advantage the Atmel processor has is it will sink/source a lot of current. A simple and cheap driver chip for ~$.50 would overcome this.

  6. Not all applications need a 32-bit chip. A lot of the microprocessors in automobiles only need to be 4- or 8-bit to do things like check if your seat belt is fastened or monitor temperature. Besides, the development kits for an ARM cost more than for an Atmel chip.

  7. True, but the micros in autos are $.50 to $1.00 simple chips that are network I/O modules. Doing real processing with 8 bit micros is silly when 32 bit ones cost the same.

    There are open source ARM dev environments which support Java and C++, such as
    http://www.opengroup.org/tech/management/arm/

    Porting the Processing like language Arduino folks use is a relatively easy task as it’s essentially a preprocessor which spits out C/C++.

    What’s more is the ARM processor can really go fast — up to 1Ghz+, so scaling up if you need it is possible. The Atmel architecture is essentially at it’s limits.

    -W

  8. Atmel micros are not more “open” than Microchip’s … They tend to be more common among amateurs these days because their architecture is compatible with a compiler like GCC, while PICs are not, thus requiring custom tools. All the rest, datasheets etc. is pretty much the same. This seems to be a cultural thing too. Here in France, PICs are much more popular than AVRs. This seems to be the opposite in the US (judging by uses in recent projects).

    In any case, the loss of a competitor in this market, be it by being bought or by being bankrupt, would always be a bad thing.

    P.S. : is the “The text entered was wrong. Please try again.” issue going to be fixed soon ? ;P

  9. I think this is bad from a development tools standpoint – Microchip’s dev tools are cheap, good quality, and don’t unnecessarily limit the devices you can use. The $30 PICKIT2 can program and debug most every PIC available, from the 6-pin 10Fs to the PIC32s (debug features limited to newer devices). It doesn’t have the code size limitations of Atmel’s AVR Dragon, appears to be a far more robust design, and is a third of the price. Microchip has fewer supply issues than Atmel, and until recently had a stellar samples program (it’s now only ranked as “good”). Microchip also has a habit of not discontinuing products as long as people still use them, something Atmel has issues with.

    I really don’t get the fear that the AVR series would be discontinued – had Microchip gone through with it, there’s no way they’d discontinue a line of products that sell millions of units per year. Their continued support of their old 12-bit and 14-bit cores proves that.

    Wesc: show me an ARM chip with 5V-tolerant I/Os that can source / sink around 20ma, in a DIP package, and we’ll talk.

  10. Correction: the PICKIT2 is about $35US, the Dragon is about $50. The Dragon is still an exposed PCB with known power issues and sensitive I/O buffers that I managed to kill by plugging it in the first time. The PICKIT2 is in an easily-opened plastic case, has a reprogramming header for emergencies, and is based on a single Microchip part with a handful of passive parts that I haven’t yet been able to kill.

    But I’m not bitter :)

  11. Hey, if you’re still into 8-bitters, dump the Atmel/Aduino stuff and move to the SiLabs parts. Their devkits are generally about $50, and the USB JTAG dongle is $40. And you can do in-circuit debug! The guys who designed the Arduino never bothered bringing the debug pins to a port so you can’t (easily) debug. Plus, the Atmel debug interface is pretty expensive, esp. compared to the SiLabs USB JTAG guy.

  12. Andy, debugging for the ATMEGA168 is done through the !RESET line via debugWire, which is supported on the $50 AVR Dragon. This functionality is available both through the ISP header on each Arduino board as well as the 6-pin power header on everything since the Diecimila.

  13. Randy: How about the NXP LPC214x?

    Sinks/sources 45-50mA
    USB 2.0
    5V tolerant IO (up to 45 pins)
    Embedded debug/trace interfaces
    DAC
    Fast A/D
    6 PWM

    < $5 in qty. Not DIP package, but is that really necessary? If you want to breadboard with it, get it in a Stamp form factor.

  14. Any DIP boards I’ve seen for LPCxxxx chips are usually in the $40-70 range. DIP is incredibly useful for entry-level hobbyist stuff, for ease of replacement when (not if) you blow the microcontroller.

  15. Sorry Brian, I didn’t mean to come off so harsh.

    Personally, I use PIC for the 8-bit offerings and Atmel’s ARM parts, and I think they’re both quite open these days. I’d hate to see either of them go away.

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I'm a tinkerer and finally reached the point where I fix more things than I break. When I'm not tinkering, I'm probably editing a book for Maker Media.

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