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Maxim Showcases Efficient Custom AI

February 23, 2021

Author: Aakash Jani

Maxim Integrated, a top-10 microcontroller vendor, has hopped on the AI bus with its ultra-low-power MAX78000. The device combines a complete Arm-based MCU with the company’s first deep-learning accelerator (DLA). Maxim designed power efficiency into every facet of this product, maximizing AI performance per watt.

The chip features an unlikely duo: an Arm Cortex-M4F and a 32-bit RISC-V core. The former handles application code while the latter acts as a low-power sensor hub. The 78000’s DLA processes 56 billion INT8 operations per second (GOPS) and accelerates common activation functions. The chip integrates standard microcontroller blocks such as embedded flash memory, analog I/Os, and a power-management unit. To generate interest and to test its software, Maxim released a $168 development board that includes the chip and a touch-enabled display. By itself, the chip lists for $8.50 in 1,000-unit lots and is in production now.

The MAX78000 targets battery-powered smart sensors, carrying a rating of 28mW (typical). It competes with products from GreenWaves, Eta Compute, and other startups. The AI-powered-MCU segment continues to lack a clear leader, though; startups and incumbents alike are differentiating through performance and power, but all face similar challenges in delivering software.

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