The First Ever Microcontroller With an Integrated GPU

If your project needs graphics, especially if it needs video, you almost certainly are going to chose to base it around a single-board…

Alasdair Allan
3 years agoInternet of Things

If your project needs graphics, especially if it needs video, you almost certainly are going to chose to base it around a single-board computer, like the Raspberry Pi or the BeagleBone, rather than a microcontroller board.

However last week Microchip announced a new family of microcontrollers, the PIC32MZ DA, the first with an integrated graphics processing unit (GPU). The chips take the existing PIC32 architecture, which is based around a 32-bit MIPS chip with a microAptiv core, and adds to it a 2D GPU and an LCD driver.

The PIC32MZ DA is targeted at a market where processor demands are low, but the product—or project—still needs a 24-bit colour display on a large LCD panel. The onboard GPU will support a range of displays with resolutions up to SXGA (1280×1024 pixels). The chip will be offered in a number of packages including a 169-ball BGA, a 176-pin LQFPm and a 288-ball BGA for external DDR2 applications.

While Microchip’s PIC32MZ DA may be the first microcontroller with a built in GPU there have been some interesting projects in the past to enable graphics output from a microcontroller.

The VGAtonic for instance is a serial graphics card for anything that speaks SPI or TTL Serial, supporting up to 640x480 resolution and 8-bit colour depth, with drivers for the Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Intel Edison, and the Arduino Uno.

However if what you want is to get started with the PIC32MZ DA, Microchip is suppling a starter kit for it—one with internal stacked DRAM at $130, and the other with external DRAM at $140. Both kits can be obtained with or without an associated hardware Crypto Engine for data encryption and authentication.

The chip itself will cost around $8 in volume, although you should of course expect to pay more for small runs or individual units. Complete details of the PIC32MZ DA microcontroller family can be found in the datasheet.

Alasdair Allan
Scientist, author, hacker, maker, and journalist. Building, breaking, and writing. For hire. You can reach me at 📫 alasdair@babilim.co.uk.
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