19
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What are the cheapest microcontrollers available?

This would be in volumes over 1000, though hobbyist availability would be nice.

I'm looking for the cheapest of all microcontrollers - my requirements are minimal, 1 IO pin, any supply voltage, single chip.

(This is a "community-wiki", so anyone with >100 reputation can refine and improve answers)

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm looking for the cheapest of all microcontrollers - my requirements are minimal, 1 IO pin, any supply voltage, single chip (question updated) \$\endgroup\$ – Toby Jaffey Jan 6 '11 at 23:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a silly question, I voted to close it. \$\endgroup\$ – Leon Heller Jan 6 '11 at 23:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would genuinely like an answer and I don't see how this question is different to electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/2641/cheapest-fpgas or electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/2704/… \$\endgroup\$ – Toby Jaffey Jan 6 '11 at 23:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Leon I was tempted but been edited now in two minds. \$\endgroup\$ – Dean Jan 6 '11 at 23:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a useful question. Some of these I didn't even know existed (PIC10 for example). \$\endgroup\$ – Mr. Hedgehog Jan 7 '11 at 0:09

10 Answers 10

12
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Given your modest requirements. the pic10f200 is worth a look.

Flash: 256B
RAM: 16 B
Package: SOT23-6
Price@1: $0.41
Price@1k: $0.32
Datasheet

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  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Datasheet: ww1.microchip.com/downloads/en/DeviceDoc/41239D.pdf \$\endgroup\$ – Toby Jaffey Jan 6 '11 at 23:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems to be the cheapest one available, from my research. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Mar 4 '11 at 15:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1. PIC is designed from start to fit into extremes of cost sensitive reaches \$\endgroup\$ – user924 Jun 9 '12 at 15:51
11
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Texas Instruments have a "Value Line" MSP430 range.

Flash: 0.5/1k RAM: 128 B Package: 14TSSOP (cheapest) / 14DIP / 16QFN

It's the only 16-bit device in this class, and it's also the only one with 10 IO pins.

The MSP430G2001 is $0.34 @ 1ku.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ i would also get a launchpad, ($5) because you get the programmer with 2 chips and order free samples from TI for more chips \$\endgroup\$ – jsolarski Jan 7 '11 at 8:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Matt, @jsolarski - Samples are great for their intended purpose: to support new designs and to verify that a sample will work in existing designs. Please don't abuse the program and ruin it for the rest of us; read the TI FAQ for more information. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Jan 7 '11 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Samples are also often more trouble than they're worth. If you are going to buy 1k of something, chances are you can buy one from DigiKey and pay for a predictable delivery date. \$\endgroup\$ – joeforker Mar 4 '11 at 19:34
4
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Especially when you're talking small quantities the price of the controller is only part of the picture. Suppose you need a 500 euro programmer to program the devices. This is OK if you need 100 000 devices a year, but if you need 50 controllers, the programmer adds 10 euro to a device which at 1 euro may be cheap in itself.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's one reason why it's a silly question and should be closed! \$\endgroup\$ – Leon Heller Jan 7 '11 at 12:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or it makes the launchpad look even better for a $5 programmer \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Williamson Jan 7 '11 at 16:51
3
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Atmel has a 6-pin SOT-23-6/DFN-6 line of AVRs, the ATtiny4/5/9/10.

Flash: 512 B (4/9) / 1k (5/10)
RAM: 32 B
Package: SOT23-6/DFN-6
Price@1: $0.95
Price@4.5k: $0.53

The 4/9 parts have no ADC (and are cheaper), the 5/10 parts have ADCs. The ATtiny4u3 has an integral boost regulator and runs from as low as 0.7V, which might save some money if you're running from a battery. If course, the extra features cost more. Cheapest part is the ATtiny4.

From what I've heard though, Atmel has legendarily bad availability for production quantities.

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3
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The 6-pin (SMD) or 8-pin (DIP) Freescale MC9RS08KA1, is 68 cents quantity one (72 cents quantity 10, and 42 cents quantity 100, or 40 cents quantity 1000. It has 2 or 4 I/O pins, and has 1 KB of Flash and 63 bytes of RAM.

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3
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While the answer I give on this occasion is the same as others have given (= try Microchip PIC 10F200) the ease of getting a reasonably good answer out suggests that you are not aware of it so it's worth noting. ie use any large suppliers online priced selector guide - in a competitive market they are as good as you'll be easily able to get at 1000 quantity except for specials

So, go to eg Digikey's website and key in microcontroller, select the largest volume option = emebedded microcontrollers = 33613 candidates, select sort by price (arrow above unit price for Digikey), key in "in stock" and 1000 quantity and select "Sort by price, advanced". Bingo.
PIC10F200T-I/OTCT-ND 34 cents US from 100 up!

As a check, take the lower priced candidates and plug them into eg Findchips . For the PIC10F200, 34 cents is as low as anyone advertsies on the open market via Findchips. You can bypass the front end with desired using eg http://www.findchips.com/avail?part=PIC10f200


Higher volume:

If you want rather more than 1000 then people like Microchip have special untested supply lines where you are responsible for ensuring devices are in spec and you get accordingly low prices. These are sold in egh Asia to compete against the Asian direct PIC clones and against similar capability processors. Prices down to around 20 cents should be "easy enough" to get.

As you get to high volumes pricing becomes subject to NDA. I have seen prices of some products (not processors) which are around 25% of what may be reasonably expected at very high volumes. (No I'm not subject to NDA but also am not going to be more specific, alas). So, a 20c price in ongoing volume seems doable.

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3
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Current order of ultra low cost microcontrollers based on my knowledge (probably others, but I cant speak for what I dont know)

  1. ST Microelectronics - STM8S003F3 - OTT spec for its price ~$0.23 ea @ 25k
  2. ST Microelectronics - STM8L051F3 - OTT spec for its price ~$0.30 ea @ 25k
  3. Freescale MC9S08PA4 - good spec for its price - $0.30 ea @ 10k
  4. NXP LPC1110FD20 (32-Bit Cortex M0) good perforance for price - $0.45 @ 10ku
  5. NXP LPC811 (32-Bit Cortex M0+) basic peripherals - $0.40 @ 10ku
  6. Freescale MKL02Z08 16-pin (32-Bit Cortex M0+) good peripherals - $0.49 @ 10ku
  7. NXP LPC1111FHN33 (32-Bit Cortex M0+) 33-pin version - $0.60 @ 10ku
  8. TI MSP430G2333 Ultra low Power, reasonable spec - $0.65 @ 10ku

Your probably wondering why I haven't mentioned Microchip, or Atmel, and its simply because their sub-$0.60 microcontrollers have extremely small Flash & RAM, and very limited peripherals as well as limited number of GPIO usually in an 6-pin to 14-pin package.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ OTT = "over the top"? \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Aug 17 '13 at 17:59
2
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Atmel ATtiny13. Short datasheet here.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Looks like these are 1 to 2 dollars each \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Jan 7 '11 at 22:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ To my knowledge, the ATtiny13 isn't very C-friendly (very limited stack space). The ATtiny25/45/85 have a more useful amount of RAM. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Jan 7 '11 at 23:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Attiny13 isn't the cheapest in the ATtiny line. I think that status belongs to the ATtiny4. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Mar 4 '11 at 15:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ 32 bytes of RAM! \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Mar 4 '11 at 20:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ ... should be enough for anyone? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Mar 11 '11 at 21:39
2
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All uC vendors have chips under 1$. It's more about what you can buy in your local shops in small quantity.

For example, I was paying for Attiny13 ~1.5$ which is much more it costs at the manufacturer. And I don't have msp430 for any money here.

So, check your shops, that's the only way to go.

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  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ Who buys anything locally anymore? \$\endgroup\$ – tyblu Jan 7 '11 at 13:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tyblu - Depends on your definition of 'locally'. I consider any US-based distributor or manufacturer to be local (greater North America only slightly less so), and Asian/European distributors to be non-local. 99% of my shopping is therefore local. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Jan 7 '11 at 20:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @reem: My distributor has an office up the road. They're based in another city. The manufacturer in another state. The manufacturing is done in another country... \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Jan 7 '11 at 23:23
2
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The price of anything is dependent on what you can negotiate. If you are only looking at hobbyist quantities, I'd ask why it matters, since the price difference between 10 cheap MCUs can be a penny or two and you'd spend more time selecting a chip than your time would be worth.

If you're buying large production quantities, then the price you pay will depend on your relationship with the vendor, how many they think you will order in the future, what else you're bundling with your order, what particular chip that vendor has overstock of and wants to dump, how much they paid for that stock, how much it costs them to keep carrying the excess inventory, etc...

There really is no simple answer.

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