Understanding FRAM Tech

Get to know the new non-volatile memory technology embedded in MSP430 microcontrollers

Benefits

Learn about the advantages of FRAM-based MCUs and how to get started

customers testmonials

See why real engineers are integrating MSP430 FRAM-based MCUs in their systems


Understanding FRAM Technology

Introduction

Ferroelectric Random Access Memory (FRAM), also known as FeRAM or F-RAM, is a memory technology that combines the best of Flash and SRAM. It is non-volatile like Flash, but offers fast and low power writes, write endurance of 1015 cycles, data security and unmatched flexibility. This memory technology has been around for decades, but is now being integrated in MSP430 ultra-low-power microcontrollers (MCUs) to bring its unique advantages to real-world applications.

Molecular Structure

FRAM is a random access memory, meaning that each bit is read and written individually. This non-volatile memory is similar in structure to DRAM, which uses one transistor and one capacitor (1T-1C), but FRAM stores data as a polarization of a ferroelectric material (Lead-Zirkonate-Titanate). As an electric field is applied, dipoles shift in a crystalline structure to store information. This structure results in a number of advantages:

  • Non-volatility
  • Fast writes
  • Low power
  • High endurance
  • Resistance to electromagnetic fields and radiation
  • Unmatched flexibility
  • Data Security
molecular

o The use of crystal polarization as opposed to charge storage enables state retention, lower voltage requirements (as low as 1.5V) and fast write speeds when compared against Flash, EEPROM and SRAM technologies used in typical MSP430 microcontroller applications. In addition to benefits associated with traditional memory technologies, FRAM offers system level security advantages. The lack of a charge pump removes a key vulnerability against physical attacks. FRAM is also resistant to electric/magnetic fields as well as radiation. Since FRAM state is not stored as a charge, alpha particles are not likely to cause bits to flip and the FRAM Soft Error Rate (SER) is below detectable limits. On top of this resistance to external interference, FRAM is anti-tearing, meaning power lost during a write/erase cycle will not cause data corruption. Finally, data can often be protected using encryption. The fast write speed and high endurance of FRAM enables developers to generate keys more frequently to better secure data transmission.

Technology Comparison

The previous section described some of the advantages of FRAM, but does FRAM really stack-up well against traditional forms of memory technologies? The answer is yes! The table below will summarize the key advantages of FRAM when compared against Flash, EEPROM, and SRAM.

All-in-one: FRAM MCU delievers max benefits
Specifications FRAM SRAM EEPROM Flash
Non-volatile
Retains data w/o power
Yes No Yes Yes
Write speed
(13 KB)
10ms <10ms 2 secs 1 sec
Average active Power [µA/MHz]
16 bit word access by the CPU
100 <60 50,000+ 230
Write endurance 1015 Unlimited 100,000 10,000
Soft Errors No Yes Yes Yes
Bit-wise programmable Yes Yes No No
Unified Memory
Flexible code and data partitioning
Yes No No No

* Based on devices from Texas Instruments

Extended Reading

Are you ready to take a closer look at FRAM technology? The documents below will provide key insights into it’s importance, reliability and even security advantages.

Benefits in a Microcontroller

FRAM technology offers several advantages over traditional memory technologies. These advantages can lead to real function-level benefits in low-power and basic microcontroller applications.


Fast Write Speeds
  • Enable on-the-fly writes with zero buffering when receiving data from high-speed communication channels
  • Increase efficiency with low active duty cycle because writes are completed quickly allowing longer time in standby
No Erase Needed
  • Since FRAM writes do not require a pre-erase, memory erase time and energy bottleneck is completely eliminated
Low Energy Writes
  • No charge pump needed for FRAM writes, preventing both high average and peak power
  • the FRAM write process consumes no extra power when compared to a read, making energy budgeting when recording data simple and painless
  • Backup full state data, code or data memory on power fail since FRAM writes do not drain excessive energy
  • Perform over the air updates confidently since hundreds of kB of information can be updated in a fraction of the time without using up a significant portion of the energy resource
Real-time writes
  • Allows for more responsive data-logging for example in the case of quick fault events
  • CPU is not held in the process of writes, interrupts are not blocked and the writes are completed within the instruction cycle time
  • Non-segmented memory means an entire segment of memory need not be backed up to update a single word. Update bit-wise, word-wise or block-wise as suited to your application
Unified Memory
  • Experience unmatched flexibility with the ability to move code, variable data and constant data boundaries anywhere across FRAM
  • Define a customized Code: Data memory ratio based on your application’s needs

FRAM Use-Cases

FRAM technology offers several advantages over traditional memory technologies. These advantages can lead to real function-level benefits in low-power applications.

EEPROM replacement

EEPROM Replacement - Low power and high endurance means external EEPROM may be unnecessary

Solution Features

  • Lower energy
  • Not limited by I2C protocol speed
  • 1 billion times more write erase cycles than EEPROM
  • Bit-wise programmable
  • Increased memory size options

Solution Benefits

  • System is faster and more efficient
  • Can write more data over the same system lifetime for more data accuracy or can extend the system lifetime
  • FRAM is flexible and easy to use
  • FRAM-based MCUs can scale easily with your design
FRAM Use-Cases

Low-energy backup on power fail

Low energy backup on power fail - FRAM enables data backup when power is lost

Solution Features

  • FRAM writes consume 250x less energy per bit than Flash
  • FRAM writes use the same power as reads and there are no spikes in peak current because of the lack of a charge pump
  • FRAM on MSP430 MCUs has built-in circuitry to complete the current 4 word write (integrated LDO and capacitor)

Solution Benefits

  • 10x the backup capacity
    • Consider a battery source depleting by 0.2V every 0.01 second. In the ideal case w/o erases and discounting the peak current hit, about 8K flash bytes can be written, in comparison the FRAM equivalent is 80K bytes allowing the user complete flexibility to plan and execute a full fledged backup subroutine w/o having to worry about the impending power loss
backup

Over-the-air updates

Over-the-Air Updates - Speed of FRAM writes can make over the air updates more reliable

Solution Features

  • Updating FRAM takes 100x less time and 250x less energy/bit
  • No pre-erase required
  • Data can be written on-the-fly
    • Data can be written to FRAM right out of the COMM channel, with no buffering required

Solution Benefits

  • Battery life extended by limiting active radio time
  • FRAM simplifies development
  • Data secure on power loss, making verification algorithms simpler
Over-the-Air Updates - Speed of FRAM writes can make over the air updates more reliable

Remote sensing or data logging

Remote Sensing or Data Logging - Extend product life and reduce maintenance

Solution Features

  • Lower energy
    • Fast and low-power writes
  • Near infinite endurance
    • 10 billion times more cycles than Flash

Solution Benefits

  • Go longer without replacing batteries
    • Install cost can be much greater than battery cost
  • High endurance means:
    • Higher accuracy - more samples can be taken over the same product lifetime
    • Extend product lifetime - samples can be taken at the same frequency for longer
data logging

Energy harvesting

Energy Harvesting - Improve battery efficiency or remove them all together

Solution Features

  • Low active duty cycle for non-volatile writes
    • Low average and peak write power leads to low average and peak power consumption of the MCU
  • Faster wakeup time
    • Variables stored in non-volatile FRAM
  • Perfect pair with BQ25570
    • specifically designed to acquire and manage µW to mW of power generated from DC sources – solar, thermal or wind

Solution Benefits

  • Achieve closer to rated battery capacity
    • battery efficiency is improved and lifetime is extended by limiting peak current consumption
  • Energy harvesting can be the only source of energy, or can complement batteries for longer product lifetime
energy harvesting

Data security

Data Security – Protect intellectual property and transmissions with FRAM

Solution Features

  • No charge pump needed
  • Resistance to external fields
  • State retention on power fail, fast writes and 1015 write cycles

Solution Benefits

  • Memory protected from some types of physical attacks
  • FRAM is not susceptible to Soft Errors
  • Update security keys quickly and send notifications in case of certain state changes
data security

Development flexibility

Development Flexibility - Eliminate traditional boundaries between code, variable and constant data

Solution Features

  • Flash:RAM ratio is industry standard, no customization allowed!
    • FRAM breaks down this barrier with the ability to customize the size of your memory blocks
  • Flexibility to change these boundaries at run-time or compile-time

Solution Benefits

  • Fewer platforms = quicker time to market
    • FRAM enables developers to maintain 1 platform across projects with differing needs
  • Lower System Cost
    • No need to pay for a larger device just to get more RAM
development flexibility

Manufacturing efficiency

Manufacturing Efficiency - Saving time = saving money

Solution Features

  • FRAM can be written at much greater than 1MBps
    • 100x the write speed of Flash

Solution Benefits

  • Improve time through the manufacturing line for savings in high volume production
manufacturing efficiency

 

FRAM-based MCUs

The MSP430 ultra-low-power microcontroller (MCU) family now features a new series of FRAM-based devices. The MSP430FRxx FRAM series offers a full portfolio of devices ranging from 4 KB to 128 KB of non-volatile memory.

MSP430FR2033 – Small memory (up to 16 KB FRAM) footprint with abundant input/output (IO) pins. IO are capacitive touch enabled and devices also feature special Infrared (IR) modulation logic for simplifying design in applications including remote controls.

  • Up to 16 MHz
  • Up to 16 KB Non-volatile FRAM
  • 10-channel 10-bit ADC
  • IR Modulation Logic
  • Up to 60 Capacitive Touch Enabled GPIO

MSP430FR4133 – Small memory footprint with an ultra-low-power LCD controller and abundant capacitive touch enabled IO pins. The 256-segment LCD controller has an integrated charge pump for maintained contrast in low-power modes and features software configurable pins for simplified hardware layout of LCDs. IR modulation logic is also available on these MCUs.

  • Up to 16 MHz
  • Up to 16 KB Non-volatile FRAM
  • Industry’s Lowest Power LCD Controller
  • 10-channel 10-bit ADC
  • IR Modulation Logic
  • Up to 60 Capacitive Touch Enabled GPIO

MSP430FR5739 – The first set of devices featuring FRAM technology. These microcontrollers offer 5 timers, a 12-channel 10-bit ADC, and direct memory access (DMA) for minimizing time in active mode. This series also offers the smallest packaged device in the MSP430 portfolio (24-pin 2x2 DSBGA).

  • Up to 24 MHz
  • Up to 16 KB Non-volatile FRAM
  • 12-channel 10-bit ADC
  • Comparator
  • 5 Timers
  • Direct Memory Access
  • Smallest Package in the Portfolio (DSBGA – 2x2)
  • Up to 33 GPIO

MSP430FR5969 – World’s lowest power MCU series (codename: Wolverine) with a medium-sized memory footprint (up to 64 KB FRAM). These devices feature 100 µA/MHz active mode current and 450 nA standby mode current with the real-time clock (RTC) enabled. The portfolio also includes a new 16-channel 12-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC) that can accept single or differential inputs. A window comparator is integrated for extended time in low-power modes. These MCUs also feature a 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) accelerator and Intellectual Property (IP) Encapsulation module for protecting important data.

  • Up to 16 MHz
  • Up to 64 KB Non-volatile FRAM
  • 16-channel 12-bit ADC
  • Comparator
  • 5 Timers
  • Direct Memory Access
  • 256-bit AES
  • Up to 40 GPIO

MSP430FR6989 – These microcontrollers expand our MSP430FR59x/58x series with more memory and integration. These devices feature a large memory footprint (up to 128 KB FRAM), a low-power 320-segment LCD controller with integrated charge pump, and a new Extended Scan Interface (ESI) for measuring rotation or even proximity.

  • Up to 16 MHz
  • Up to 128 KB Non-volatile FRAM
  • LCD Controller
  • 16-channel 12-bit ADC
  • Comparator
  • Extended Scan Interface
  • 5 Timers
  • Direct Memory Access
  • 256-bit AES
  • Up to 83 GPIO
Learn more at FRAM Overview

Evaluation and Design

Texas Instruments has the right evaluation tools to help you choose the FRAM device for your application and start developing. Whether new to microcontrollers, an experienced engineer, just starting evaluation, or integrating MSP430 microcontrollers into a design, the Ultra-low-power MSP430FRxx FRAM microcontroller series. For quick evaluation or rapid prototyping, the MSP430 FRAM-based LaunchPad Development Kits offer everything necessary to get started for under $20. This low-cost MCU platform is complemented with Target Socket boards for a full pin breakout of our microcontrollers. These evaluation modules (EVMs) enable full integration of MSP430 MCUs into a developer’s system. These kits are all enabled by the MSP430 microcontroller programmer/debugger, MSP-FET.

Learn more about MSP430 FRAM Development Tools

 

MSP430RF5969

Integrated Development Environments (IDE) or application libraries are also available to jumpstart development. Getting started has never been simpler with TI’s Code Composer Studio or the IAR® Embedded Workbench IDEs. These are supplemented by free, optimized libraries to improve performance of math operations and simplify development when using capacitive touch or graphics in an application. Optimizers, such as EnergyTrace™ Technology , are also available to enable shortened time to market.

Learn more about software development on MSP430 FRAM MCUs

ccstudio

Reference designs are also available to help developers form their systems. TI Designs provide the foundation that you need including methodology, testing and design files to quickly evaluate and customize the system. TI Designs help you accelerate your time to market.

Checkout the latest TI Designs today!

Migration Made Easy

We know that moving to a new series, with or without a new memory technology, can be daunting. Continue reading for links to helpful documentation that can ease the transition.

FRAM Customer Testimonials

Engineers around the world are adding FRAM-based microcontrollers to their systems. Check-out some of the exciting applications from electronic shelf labels (ESLs) to asteroid mining below:


Eink Display modules – Develop electronic shelf-labels and more using FRAM enabled modules

"The unique flexibility of TI's FRAM MCUs allowed us to set the partition between RAM-type memory and program memory anywhere within the FRAM and create a unique, low-cost e-ink display solution within a compact footprint,” said Don Powrie, CEO of DLP Design. “Normally, in order to get this amount of RAM, we would require a much larger MCU, thereby driving up the overall product cost.“

Customer Problem

  • Time required to update the Eink display needs to be kept at a minimum
  • The ability to quickly store and recall full screen images from the image frame buffer is important
  • To have enough RAM, a much larger and more expensive MCU would be needed

FRAM Advantage

  • Update Eink display quickly
  • Reduce MCU cost when industry standard Flash to RAM ratios are not ideal
  • Data is secured on power loss
Eink Display

Asteroid Mining – Pushing the boundaries of resource mining off-planet

"The MSP430 FRAM micro-controller is a key element of our spacecraft avionics architecture. Its extremely low power requirements make it very well suited to the spacecraft environment. It has been great working with TI to integrate this element into our spacecraft and I am really looking forward to seeing its performance on orbit”

Customer Problem

  • Resources limited in remote system
  • Radiation can cause soft errors in traditional forms of memory

FRAM Advantage

  • Fast and low power writes enable longer system run-time on limited resources
  • Resistance to alpha particles and other forms of radiation means data is more secure
Asteroid mining

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The MSP Ultra-Low-Power microcontroller (MCU) series from Texas Instruments (TI) offers the lowest power consumption and the perfect mix of integrated peripherals for a wide range of low power and portable applications. This could include use as a metering mcu or as a microcontroller in remote control designs, with integration that enables functionality of a segment lcd driver or ir modulator. TI provides robust design support for the MSP low-power MCU family including technical documents, training, and microcontroller development kit and embedded software tools you need to get started today! This makes the MSP430, an easy to use microcontroller to begin development. This low cost microcontroller is the perfect place to start for battery powered mcu applications.