The report by The William Baldwin Group, Palo Alto, Calif., bases its results on the responses of 640 engineers polled about the devices and tools they use. The survey also shows a substantial increase in the use of 32-bit MCUs (16.3%), while FPGA (field-programmable gate array) use dropped 8.8% and ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) use dropped 17.4%.

"Traditionally, FPGAs have been used as glue logic and to accelerate repetitive calculations," says study author Nancy B. Green. "Newer microcontrollers are so highly integrated that they may be reducing the need for glue logic. What's more, high performance MCUs that offer 150-plus MIPS and DSP instruction extensions may obviate the need for hardware acceleration. Shorter product life cycles may also be contributing to the shift. It's a lot easier to write code in C/C++ and run it on a processor, than it is to write code in C/C++ and then translate it to a hardware description language."

The study also found FPGA use is closely tied to ASIC use; 74% of FPGAs are used with an ASIC. And assembly language is not dead. Nearly half of engineers do some programming in assembly; 15% use it exclusively. Finally, engineers say controller features, tools, and technical support are equally important in selecting MCU vendors.