Nordic's new nRF51 Series ULP wireless SoCs slash power consumption, up RF performance, and free designers from proprietary software frameworks

Nordic nRF51822 nRF51422

The first two ICs to debut in the nRF51 Series are the nRF51822, a multi-protocol Bluetooth low energy / 2.4GHz proprietary RF SoC, and the nRF51422, the world’s first ANT / ANT+ SoC. These devices share a new higher performance, lower power 2.4GHz multi-protocol radio and a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 based processor. These enhancements deliver up to 50% lower power consumption, RF link budget improvements of up to 9.5dB, and over 10x more processing power compared to Nordic's previous generation of ULP wireless ICs - redefining class-leading industry benchmarks

Ultra low power (ULP) RF specialist Nordic Semiconductor ASA announces the first members of its new nRF51 Series of ultra-low power (ULP) RF integrated circuits (ICs) that feature a new multi-protocol 2.4GHz radio and a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 based processor. Nordic’s novel software architecture for Bluetooth low energy and ANT System-on-Chip (SoC) solutions frees designers from the integration effort, complexities, and restrictions of chip vendor-supplied software frameworks and instead allows customers to develop their designs quickly and easily using the highly popular and familiar ARM Cortex programming environment.

Nordic's new nRF51 Series ULP wireless SoCs slash power consumption and up RF performance,

This major benefit is achieved by using a new and novel software architecture featuring a unique and powerful separation between protocol stack and user application code. This separation provides developers a clean boundary between application and protocol stack, and removes the need to struggle with integration of application code as part of a vendor-imposed application development framework. Code development is now greatly simplified and accelerated and at the same time risks associated with integration of application and stack code are significantly reduced. Customers can expect lower bug rates and improved robustness for their applications.

With the launch of the Nordic Semiconductor nRF51 Series, developing applications based on class-leading devices from any of the three main ULP wireless sub-categories – Bluetooth low energy, ANT / ANT+, and 2.4GHz proprietary RF – has never been so straightforward or accessible to the widest possible range of developers.

The first two Flash-based ICs to debut in the new nRF51 Series (see 'About the nRF51 Series' below) are the nRF51822 multi-protocol Bluetooth low energy / 2.4GHz proprietary RF SoC (see 'About the nRF51822' below), and the nRF51422 – the world’s first ANT SoC (see 'About the nRF51422' below).

About the nRF51 Series

The new multi-protocol 2.4GHz radio provides an unprecedented combination of high-performance, ultra low power consumption, and flexibility.

Key features and benefits of the radio include:

  • -92.5dB RX sensitivity in Bluetooth low energy mode;
  • Up to +4dBm output power in all modes;
  • Up to 9.5dBm improvement in link budget compared to Nordic’s previous generation radio;
  • Sub-10mA peak currents running off a 3V coin cell battery;
  • Bluetooth low energy (Bluetooth v4.0) compliant;
  • 100% on air compatibility with Nordic's existing nRF24L series ICs;
  • Support for non-concurrent and concurrent operation of a range of protocols including Bluetooth low energy, ANT, and proprietary 2.4GHz RF;
  • Full range received signal strength indication (RSSI).

The nRF51 series SoC architecture is designed specifically to minimize average current consumption and enable single chip implementations of a wide range of wireless applications.

Key features and benefits of the architecture include:

  • Powerful, low power consumption 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 processor with 2µs start-up time that minimizes active time and improves code density compared to a 8/16-bit processor;
  • Advanced and fine-grained power management scheme. Individual system blocks can be powered on or off independently and control their clock autonomously based on activity level;
  • Programmable Peripheral Interconnect (PPI) system. Enables peripherals such as radio, timers’ and I/O to interact autonomously with each other without involving the processor. Saves power by minimizing processor active time and at the same time relaxes real time requirements for the processor;
  • Highly efficient EasyDMA radio interface with flexible RAM mapped FIFOs;
  • Flexible GPIO mapping eases PCB design and helps minimize the number of routing layers;
  • Custom 2-region Memory Protection Unit (MPU) enabling program memory and run-time protection of pre-compiled protocol stacks such as Bluetooth low energy and ANT.

The nRF51 series software architecture features a unique and powerful separation between protocol stack and user application code providing application developers maximum flexibility, ease-of-development, and code safety.

  • Protocol stacks, for example Bluetooth low energy or ANT, are delivered as a pre-compiled binary or pre-programmed on devices;
  • Stacks are 100% asynchronous and event driven and provide thread-safe Supervisor Call (SVC) based application program interfaces (API) to the application layer;
  • Very simple programming model, no proprietary application framework or scheduler/RTOS dependencies, ease and accelerate code development;
  • Protocol stack and application code have no link time dependencies and can be compiled and updated/programmed separately;
  • Stacks are fully run-time protected ensuring interoperability and reducing the risk of application bugs affecting stack operation;
  • Stacks are delivered as verified and qualified binary objects.

All nRF51 Series ICs are code-compatible and groups of ICs will be pin-compatible enabling developers to keep and maintain a single code base that can be used and re-used across a range of different projects. Pin compatible ICs enable developers to both re-use hardware designs for different projects and migrate easily from one IC to another during development, prototyping, and production.


nRF51822 and nRF51422 are sampling to lead customers now. General availability is scheduled for early September 2012 and mass production is scheduled for Q4 2012.

Nordic will continue to introduce additional ICs and protocol stacks for the nRF51 Series expanding customer’s choices of memory size, package types, serial interfaces, mixed signal peripherals, and wireless connectivity.

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