16-bit microcontrollers are the next step up from 8-bit, while still sharing many of the same attributes. They are faster, support even more peripherals, and generally offer more memory, both flash, and SRAM.
In addition to more IO pins, most of them also have hardware multipliers that are significantly faster, and use less program memory, compared to pure software implementations.
It is easy to find devices from the best STMicroelectronics distributor that have both ADC’s and DAC’s, or devices with capacitive touch sensors, segmented LCD drivers, and Ethernet.
Internally, these devices also have hardware blocks typically not found in lower-end devices. These include encryption engines, Operational or Programmable Gain Amplifiers, and DMA controllers.
Although 16-bit microcontrollers can be found from various manufacturers such as Microchip (their dsPIC33 is a popular choice), NXP, Infineon, or Cypress, the TI MSP430 series will be presented here as a typical example of this microcontroller segment.
TI MSP430 Series
The MSP430 is a series of very low-power 16-bit microcontrollers that are available in many flavors. They range from general-purpose to very specialized models.
One interesting thing about the specialized variants of these microcontrollers is that it actually branches out into two extremes: very dedicated, very low-cost models, and high-end models with analog sensor interfaces and Digital Signal Processing (DSP).
An example of a high-end application is this ultrasonic flow sensor. At the low end, TI also makes MSP430-based chips that solve many very specific hardware functions. For more details see this e-paper.
For example, want an SPI to UART interface, an I/O expander, or a UART-to-UART bridge? It’s all in there, and all for less than $0.30 for this chip. Finally, of course, the MSP430 is supported by a number of low-cost tools and development kits.