I'm researching microcontrollers, memory chips, and sound chips for simple electronic toys. These toys might take user input via buttons or switches, and then play back sounds stored on a memory chip and maybe play it back through some sound chip or audio amplifier.

What are some typical models for these chips? I've worked with PIC chips in the past as a hobbyist. I'm looking for ones that are typically used by the toy manufacturers in their products. These are probably more cost effective than the ones I'm used to working with as a hobbyist.

CLARIFICATION I'm researching this b/c I have a toy idea and want to get a sense of the costs of making it. I want to be able to mass produce this.


PICs are as cheap as any in their class.
You can buy an entry level 10F series PIC for a bit over 30 cents in modest volume from US distributors.
BUT I understand thay have an arrangement in Asia where they sell the parts untested and the end user is reponsible for testing and the price would be MUCH less.

There are Asian manufacturers who have cloned the older style PICs and offer them at a lesser price than equivalent PICs on the open market at least. I suspect that Microchip match them in volume prices privately. [eg I have just received a quote for LSD NimH batteries from one of the big 3 Chinese battery makers at MOQ quantities that tend to make one's eyes water. Quote includes a written request not to tell their competitors their pricing. I doubt its too secret in reality BUT no doubt the same thing happens in the processor area].
So, make 100,000 toys or 1,000,000 and they will probably sell you basic processors for 10 to 15 cents.

There are Asian sourced 4 bit processors specifically aimed at the very large volume markets but the instruction sets and architectures are very weird* and they need their own tool chains and community support like you'd get for mainstream processors is completely lacking. [For instance an olde Fairchild F8 would be at home amongst them. An RCA CDP1801 woould look positively mainstream].

Here is what APPEARS to be the utter bargain of the mainstream microcontroller world. I have not yet found anything that tells me how many clocks per cycle - and some of the old ST processors such as the ST6 were seriesl bus based internally with maybe 10 clocks per instruction! - but even if this was the case these would setill seem a bargain. At first I thought they may be endline, but the ST site says they are "current" and a number of sellers have them at similar prices. They are the best features per $ microcontroller that I have ever seen.

5 x 10 bit ADC,
3 x capture compare plus
3 timers plus watchdog
IIC , UART, SPI, + ... .
I've yet to find the catch. It may be speed. TBD - but low speed would be OK in many cases at the price.

$US0.91/1 .

STM8S003K3/F3 datasheet and pricing

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In the case of cheap mass produced toys, more often that not you will find that manufacturers will not use commercially available chips other than for design and prototyping.

You will find that they use chips designed for one specific product or application. This type of chip is called an ASIC and will often integrate much of the circuit into a single device.

Another common type of device found in cheap toys is a Chip On Board or COB. These devices look like a black blob on the PCB. The internals of the bare chip (i.e. its die) are attached when the board is manufactured and the blob is added afterwards to protect it.

EDIT: Dan Neely posted a good link about COBs and it has some details on their cost effectiveness: dieproducts.org/tutorials/assembly/cob/index.php


In both cases the design and tooling costs associated with using these chips is very high, it will only be cheaper to use these kinds of chips when mass producing a device. These are not used in hobby electronics other than for hacking and circuit bending, it would not be cost effective.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by "the internals of the chip are printed when the board is manufactured"? \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Feb 15 '12 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Chip on Board isn't printing a chip on the PCB. What you have is a bare chip die connected to the board with wires and secured with a blob of epoxy. dieproducts.org/tutorials/assembly/cob/index.php \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Feb 15 '12 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KevinVermeer I stand corrected, I'd change it but Brian beat me to it ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Jim Feb 15 '12 at 19:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for showing how a chip die is wire bound onto a PCB and then finished with a blob of epoxy. \$\endgroup\$ – milesmeow Feb 15 '12 at 21:45

For those simple toys, performance is absolutely not a priority so, more than chips, the manufacturers use chEAps :). Any 8-bit low cost, low power microcontroller can be suitable for this purpose.

About cost effectiveness, a very important factor is the number of chips that you buy in batch; for a hobbyst, that buys 1-10 devices every time, the unit price will be much higher (more than double, shipping excluded) compared to what a manufacturer pays for 10'000+ pieces.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I see...so they go with unknown knockoffs to get better pricing. \$\endgroup\$ – milesmeow Feb 15 '12 at 22:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can figure on at least 50% lower per-unit cost for 1000 pieces compared to the onesy-twosy price from a distributor like Digikey or Mouser. Presumably the price continues to drop at higher volumes, but by the time those volumes have become relevant to any design I've ever done, the problem was out of my hands. \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Feb 16 '12 at 3:22

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