The First Ever Microcontroller With an Integrated GPU

Alasdair Allan
2 min readJun 5, 2017

If your project needs graphics, especially if it needs video, you almost certainly are going to chose to base it around a single-board computer, like the Raspberry Pi or the BeagleBone, rather than a microcontroller board.

However last week Microchip announced a new family of microcontrollers, the PIC32MZ DA, the first with an integrated graphics processing unit (GPU). The chips take the existing PIC32 architecture, which is based around a 32-bit MIPS chip with a microAptiv core, and adds to it a 2D GPU and an LCD driver.

The PIC32MZ with External DRAM (DA) Starter Kit. (📷: Microchip)

The PIC32MZ DA is targeted at a market where processor demands are low, but the product—or project—still needs a 24-bit colour display on a large LCD panel. The onboard GPU will support a range of displays with resolutions up to SXGA (1280×1024 pixels). The chip will be offered in a number of packages including a 169-ball BGA, a 176-pin LQFPm and a 288-ball BGA for external DDR2 applications.

While Microchip’s PIC32MZ DA may be the first microcontroller with a built in GPU there have been some interesting projects in the past to enable graphics output from a microcontroller.

The VGAtonic for instance is a serial graphics card for anything that speaks SPI or TTL Serial, supporting up to 640x480 resolution and 8-bit colour depth, with drivers for the Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Intel Edison, and the Arduino Uno.

The VGATonic, a 640×480 colour VGA video card for microcontrollers and single-board computers. (📷: PK)

However if what you want is to get started with the PIC32MZ DA, Microchip is suppling a starter kit for it—one with internal stacked DRAM at $130, and the other with external DRAM at $140. Both kits can be obtained with or without an associated hardware Crypto Engine for data encryption and authentication.

The chip itself will cost around $8 in volume, although you should of course expect to pay more for small runs or individual units. Complete details of the PIC32MZ DA microcontroller family can be found in the datasheet.

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