Demystifying ultra-low-power benchmarks for microcontrollers

October 29, 2014 // By Stefan Schauer, Texas Instruments
What defines an ultra-low-power (ULP) microcontroller (MCU)? Is power a sub-section of system design or the most important consideration? How can applications fit more functions into reduced energy budgets?

These are some common questions embedded developers encounter when trying to define and drive requirements for their low-energy applications. Being “energy aware” encompasses all aspects of the microcontroller ecosystem starting with MCU architecture and extending across the spectrum of peripheral interconnects and system standby capabilities. This begs the question: What quick, effective and impartial tools can developers use to compare devices, architectures and solutions based on their specific application profile?

With the goal of answering this question in mind, the Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium (EEMBC) consortium has formed a working group to define and establish a new benchmark that is focused on ultra-low-power applications. Understandably, the first question to solve was “how to define the term 'ultra-low-power'”? While this term has broad-reaching implications based on the type of application, the consortium saw fit to limit the scope to MCUs that focus on applications running from batteries or similar power sources for an extended period of time.

A new ultra-low-power benchmark called ULPBench covers a wide variety of applications with the use of a set of commonly used ‘profiles’ that are generated and bundled into the benchmark suite. The first phase of this benchmark suite, called CoreProfile, is now available and can be used to benchmark MCUs targeted for ULP application segments that use a typical peripheral set comprising, at a minimum; real-time clock (RTC), RAM and non-volatile memory in combination with the CPU.

next; defining profiles...