Raspberry Pi unveils $4 microcontroller board with custom chip

January 21, 2021 //By Rich Pell
Raspberry Pi unveils $4 microcontroller board with custom chip
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has announced the launch of its first first microcontroller-class product - a $4 microcontroller board built around a new chip developed at Raspberry Pi.

The Raspberry Pi Pico , says the organization, can be used as a standalone board for deep-embedded development, a companion to the Raspberry Pi computer, or a platform to learn about how to use a microcontroller. The board is based around the RP2040 microcontroller chip designed by Raspberry Pi, which features a dual-core Arm Cortex-M0+ processor with 264KB internal RAM and support for up to 16 MB of off-chip Flash.

The Pico, says the organization, addresses the need for a companion for the Raspberry Pi that uses less power and can handle analog input and low-latency I/O and, sometimes, provide a very low-power standby mode. Previously many hobbyist and industrial applications have paired a Raspberry Pi with a third-party microcontroller to achieve this.

"Until now," says James Adams, Director of Hardware at Raspberry Pi, "we've not been able to figure out a way to make a compelling microcontroller-class product of our own. To make the product we really wanted to make, first we had to learn to make our own chips."

Building on the lessons the organization has learned from using other microcontrollers in its products, it had three principal design goals for the RP2040: high performance, particularly for integer workloads; flexible I/O, to allow it to talk to almost any external device; and, low cost, to eliminate barriers to entry. The resulting chip is a 7 x 7 mm QFN-56 package containing just two square millimeters of 40 nm silicon.

Key features of the RP2040 include:

  • Dual-core Arm Cortex-M0+ @ 133 MHz
  • 264 KB of on-chip RAM
  • Support for up to 16 MB of off-chip Flash memory via dedicated QSPI bus
  • DMA controller
  • Interpolator and integer divider peripherals
  • 30 GPIO pins, four of which can be used as analog inputs
  • 2 × UARTs, 2 × SPI controllers, and 2 × I2C controllers
  • 16 × PWM channels
  • 1 × USB 1.1 controller and PHY, with host and device support
  • 8

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