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I'm working for a small toy company who has all of their engineering/programming in China. They have had a few of their electronics product needing revamping because the microcontroller that the design was based on is no longer being manufactured. I think a lot of the Chinese vendors select Chinese chip manufacturers.

How do I go about selecting microcontrollers that have a lower risk of becoming decommissioned? What are some stable companies that are out there that produce microcontrollers for toys?

Do I look for PIC chips, Atmel, TI, etc. chips? These will probably have a higher cost associated with them, but if it will save money on revamping then the cost may be worth it.

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Brand based answers are usually frowned on BUT Microchip with their PIC microcontrollers do a superb job of not obsoleting hardware products that are decades old. If you look in their catalog and selection guide pages you will find products that are not recommended for new designs but which they were making in the early years of their operation. Upgrade paths are also often relatively pain free compared to some alternatives.

PIC processors have for decades had a very large % share of the bottom end market - in equipment like cable TV set top boxes, toys appliances and more. In Asia they are competitive against direct contenders. For high volume manufacturers I understand that they offer untested products at a significant discount, allowing suitably capable manufacturers to run their own acceptance programs.

For an entry level processor in high volume you will certainly be able to get standard PIC parts down to around $US0.20 and I imagine substantially below that - but I have no way of accessing such information as it would be on a 'need-to-buy' basis.

Another approach is to look for generic processor families that are manufactured by a range of suppliers. eg Various 8051 variants

Atmel are specifically not good at maintaining long product lifetimes.


Update - January 2016: It has just been announced that Microchip has arranged to buy Atmel, so it will be interesting to see what changes this causes. These could range from discontinuation of some Atmel products, through to improvement of long term availability.

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    \$\begingroup\$ agree, being able to obtain any Atmel chip more than once for me has been a big pain (in small development quantities from distributors at least) \$\endgroup\$ – justing Jun 19 '12 at 4:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not everything with Atmel is that bad. Their ATmega8-derivatives are still pin-compatible and code-compatible after more than 15 years. \$\endgroup\$ – vsz Jan 24 '16 at 9:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @vsz Microchip just bought Atmel, so it will be interesting to see what affect this has. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jan 25 '16 at 0:34

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