It's been a while since I have been doing microcontroller-related projects. Now it's time to get my feet wet again. For an exciting new project, I'm a looking for an evaluation/development kit for an affordable but high-performance (best-bang-for-the-buck) microcontroller. Preferred is 32-bit, but 16-bit is manageable. Important here is the availability of the I/O ports, I don't care much for USB or Ethernet or even wireless support. Power is also not important. Built-in ADC will be a bonus, but not necessary. The program will be lightweight enough so no need for megabytes of memory.
Surprisingly, I have difficulties finding such a board/microcontroller. Seems that 32-bit microcontrollers todays are geared more toward multimedia solution (image+audio processing), portable networked device, or automotive/industrial applications with different (and confusing) bus types. All I want to do is relatively simple but fast processing of some data. Unfortunately, I can't stick with 8-bit system anymore because of the nature of the application. So what I am searching is rather a bare-bone, blazing-fast microcontroller with tons of digital I/O. The good old 8051 on steroids.
The closest I could find so far is Microchip PIC32 (though I wish it had more input output pins) with its $50 Starter Kit. However, I'm sure there are loads of similar stuff. Where are they?
PS: I'm quite proficient with FPGA so I guess the fallback solution will be a soft-processor in an FPGA, but I would like to stay with the plain microcontroller if I have the choice.