Since some of you may already read some of my posts here where I wrote that I preferred AVRs/ARMs may wonder why now I want to know something about PICs.

Though one may like them or hate them, they offer many advantages at [very] low prices (CANbus and Ethernet, RTCC, many I2C & SPI & UART ports).

Finally they seem to be among some of the most widely MCUs used in the industry (beside for instance the 8051 which although old is still widely used), so learning them might be positive for a job.

Therefore I wanted to ask: what MCU architecture would you choose among the many available? PIC16/PIC18/PIC24F/PIC24H/dsPIC30/dsPIC33/PIC32?

I ask that because it seems to me that their architectures is very different one from the other. Therefore assembly instructions will differ significantly. I don't really if in C these differences are less important.

I know you can't really give me a "general" answer since each MCU is best suited for one specific application, but I hope you can give me tips to maybe avoid using some deprecated MCUs and choose newer ones for ~ the same price.

This is AFAIK where they'd be better suited for:

  • PIC12/PIC16/PIC18: basic circuits (LED controls, switchs, basic ADC, DAC, SPI&I2C&UART), 8 bits [basically what you do with any AVR] (very cheap)
  • PIC24F/PIC24H: more complex circuits, ethernet MAC, 16 bits
  • dsPIC30/dsPIC33: operations involving digital signal processing (I don't plan doing those at the moment)
  • PIC32: most complex circuits, CAN/CANbus, ethernet MAC, 32 bits (relatively expensive)

Since I already have some projects in mind I'll illustrate what I'd chose for some small applications, so that you may prove me I'm wrong :)

  • Energy meter: PIC32, since with SPI/I2C it will communicate to a power meter IC, while CAN/CANbus will pass the measured informations to a host (basically a distributed energy meter system with on meter on each [significant] plug)
  • DC/DC converter, battery charger, ...: PIC12/PIC16/PIC18/PIC24F/PIC24H, basically to do a PWM and negative feedback with ADC

I'll accept any statement on which MCUs to prefer/avoid for one particular application. I know some of you may want to use AVRs/ARMs/MSP430 and each MCU has its own application field. And, BTW, I'm not saying I only on using PICs. Just that for starters it may be better to use not all architectures at once.

For instance in my opinion:

  • I'd take a MSP430 for low-power applications or for integrated >= 16 bits ADC
  • I'd take an AVR for very fast instruction set (most are 1 cycle instructions)
  • I'd take an ARM for more advanced features and speed/memory

However since PICs are usually the cheapest and with most periferals, I think it's best to know the characteristics of each PIC family. I don't know if nowadays PIC12/PIC16 are deprecated, expecially since I heard some bad things about their "complicated instruction set", but AFAIK nowadays that's a bit better.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This always helps me pick my PIC microchip.com/productselector/MCUProductSelector.html \$\endgroup\$
    – kenny
    Aug 19, 2012 at 21:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or for "advanced" part selection: http://www.microchip.com/maps/microcontroller.aspx \$\endgroup\$
    – PetPaulsen
    Aug 19, 2012 at 21:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ One advantage of selecting different PICs for various applications based on their capabilities, rather than going with different vendors (MSP, AVR, ARM) is you only need to learn one IDE (MPLAB). \$\endgroup\$
    – tcrosley
    Aug 19, 2012 at 22:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kenny: I see that, though that only is useful if you need some features like CAN/Ethernet or other things. It doesn't tell you the difference between PIC12/PIC16/PIC18. \$\endgroup\$
    – user51166
    Aug 20, 2012 at 3:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PetPaulsen: interisting, didn't now that. Always used that crappy product selector which sometimes went into an infinite loop and couldn't get any further, while other times it would work correctly. It seems a bit more advances. Plus this one gives you a side-by-side comparison. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$
    – user51166
    Aug 20, 2012 at 3:32

2 Answers 2


Aesthetically, my favorite architecture in many was is the 14-bit series. The 16-bit PIC18Fxx architecture improves some things, but I find somehow the design less aesthetically pleasing. Which architecture you'll like better probably depends upon your design aesthetic, the extent to which your find yourself wishing things were designed differently, and the extent to which such wishing detracts from your enjoyment working with them.

From a design perspective, there's no particular reason why code addresses and data addresses need to be the same. One thing I like about the 14-bit PICs is that adding a number to an instruction address advances by that many instructions. By contrast, on the PIC18X, each instruction takes two addresses. Consequently, computed jumps using an 8-bit selector are confined to a range of 128 instructions rather than 256. It's a small detail, but having a program counter whose lowest bit is non-functional seems unaesthetic.

Also, the PIC18xx parts add a single-cycle hardware multiply, but unfortunately since it requires one operand to be in W but puts the results in a fixed pair of other registers, it can't be used very effectively for multi-precision operations. If I had my druthers, there would be two types of multiply instructions:

  1. Simple multiply -- Store W into multiplier register, and store op*W into PRODH:W
  2. Multply-add --Store PRODH+op*multiplier register into PRODH:W

With such a pattern, a 16x16 operation would be rendered as:

  movf  OP1L,W
  mul   OP2L
  movwf RESULT0
  mula  OP2H
  movff OP2L,MULTR
  mula  OP2L
  movwf RESULT1
  mula  OP2H
  muvwf RESULT2

Further, arbitrary-length multiplies could be done with an average cost of a little over two cycles per 8x8 partial product, using the repeated pattern:

  mula   POSTINC0,c
  addwfc POSTINC1,f,c

That pattern would multiply one multi-byte number times an 8-bit value and add the result to another multi-byte number.

As it is, I think the best one can do for an extended multiply is to do the multiply to a destination buffer without doing a built-in add, at a cost of six cycles per 8x8 partial product, and then spend another two-cycles per partial product adding that result to the previous 8xN partial result.

  movf   multiplier,w
  mulwf  POSTINC0,c
  movf   PRODL,w,c
  addwfc POSTINC1,w
  movff  PRODH,INDF1

Four times as long as what could be achieved with a slightly different instruction set. I don't know that I've seen any processor which included a function to compute PRODH+Op1*Op2 but it would be a very simple feature to include in shifter-based multiplies, and it facilitates computing arbitrary product widths with fixed hardware cost. Actually, since the PIC takes four hardware clocks per instruction, the hardware required to allow a 16xN or 32xN multiply would be pretty modest; when computing big products, a 16xN or 32xN multiply with suitable register usage would offer a 2x or 4x speedup.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Referring to PICs as "n-bit" on the basis of their instruction width has always struck me as weird. (For the unfamiliar: on the data side PICs come in 8-bit (PIC10,12,14,16,17,18), 16-bit (PIC24, dsPIC30,33), and 32-bit (PIC32).) \$\endgroup\$
    – mlp
    Aug 20, 2012 at 1:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mlp: yeah, I agree on that, although there is a simple page on Microchip's site showing graphically architecture vs # of bits: microchip.com/stellent/…. \$\endgroup\$
    – user51166
    Aug 20, 2012 at 3:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mlp: The 18xx parts all have 16-bit instructions, but some 16xx parts use 12-bit instructions and some use 14-bit, so I don't know what other term to use rather than 12-bit or 14-bit. \$\endgroup\$
    – supercat
    Aug 20, 2012 at 4:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @supercat: thank you for the detailed explanation. Sorry if I wasn't clear enough, but I don't plan on doing assembly with PICs unless I really need to (high performance, low code size, ...) which for now I don't. \$\endgroup\$
    – user51166
    Aug 20, 2012 at 5:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mlp: True, but the phrase "12-bit PIC" or "14-bit PIC" cannot logically refer to anything other than the code size, can it? The term "16-bit PIC" would be ambiguous, but even the term "16-bit code PIC" would be (before the 18xxx came to market, there was a 17Cxx architecture which had 16-bit code but was in many ways inferior to the 14-bit-code architecture. For example, while most 14-bit-code devices had at least 16 bits of unbanked memory, the 17Cxx had six. I/O was banked separately from RAM, with I think 8 bytes/bank. I only coded a little on the 17Cxx, but it was a real pain. \$\endgroup\$
    – supercat
    Aug 22, 2012 at 18:19

Stick to ARM. They are more powerful in all areas and some of them are less costly then many 16 bit PICs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Argh! Would you mind explaining your statement ... In what terms are they more powerful? Raw processing speed? Power consumption? Peripherals? - Would you use a full fledged ARM to monitor a sensor and give an alarm when necessary, or wouldn't it be neater to use a lightweight microcontroller, thats smaller, cheaper and not that powerhungry. Yes, that microcontroller has not all that power, but sometimes you dont need more. A general statement like yours isn't helpful, imo. \$\endgroup\$
    – PetPaulsen
    Aug 20, 2012 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 I'm afraid - there is no one microcontroller that is best for all scenarios. Plus there are many more considerations like Dev tools (e.g. ARM can be expensive) Learning curve, Support, documentation, etc, etc. I use both ARM and PIC, since they both have their advantages in certain areas. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oli Glaser
    Aug 20, 2012 at 15:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ OK. Find me an ARM MCU for less than 5$/piece in 10-100 units (not 10k !) that can do CAN and Ethernet. You either get only Ethernet (standard Cortex M3/M4 at ~ 5$), however in order to get CAN you should get a TMS series MCU from TI which is ~ 10$ / piece. I suppose there may be similar alternatives from ST (Cortex M3/M4) and ATMEL (AVR UC3, AVR 8 bits as well - though those with CANbus are much more expensive than the PICs out there) \$\endgroup\$
    – user51166
    Aug 20, 2012 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PetPaulsen I did not say you have to use ARM in every situation. It depends upon the exact requirement. We still use 4 bit controller for one of my clients product, while we use latest ARM F4 from ST for other product. My statement may have created some confusion but if you compare features vis a vis price you will find many ARM controllers offer good advantages. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 20, 2012 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user51166 may I know which PIC chip you are comparing ? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 20, 2012 at 16:22

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