Atmel pushes ARM Cortex A5 into embedded and consumer with the same chip

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By eeNews Europe

The 65nm SAMA5D3 series is designed for embedded applications in the industrial space, including factory and building automation, smart grid, medical and handheld terminals, at the same time as consumer applications such as smart watches, outdoor GPS and DECT cordless phones.
As the A5 has been used in quad-core smartphone chips over the last four years, the core gives more power efficiency, says Frédéric Gaillard, Product Marketing Manager at Atmel, but has been overly complex to use. The aim has been to add communications peripherals such as Ethernet and USB and simplify the development environment.
The chip integrates the USB MAC and PHY to simplify system design and provides up to 850DMIPS at 536MHz while offering 1328MB/s at 166MHz bus speed. The floating point unit (FPU) also provides additional high-precision processing power for image, audio and sensor data. All these features make the SAMA5 series ideal for high-performance industrial applications requiring high-precision computing and low power, including interfaces, control panels, networking, gateways, programmable logic controllers, barcode scanners or printers, terminals and battery-operated applications.
Power consumption is under 200mW in active mode at maximum speed and below 0.5mW in low-power mode when retaining context and offering fast wake-up and the devices are already being used for smart watch designs by early customers, says Gaillard, even though it also integrates a gigabit Ethernet MAC with real time stamping for network controller applications.
The devices are all pin compatible, using a configurable general purpose I/O in a 324-ball BGA package to easily upgrade a design. The peripherals include a dual Ethernet port (one Gigabit), 3x high-speed USB ports, dual CAN, TFT LCD controller with graphics accelerator for image composition, camera interface, SDIO/SD/MMC, UARTs, SPIs, TWIs, soft modem, 12-bit ADC and 32-bit timers.
The SAMA5D3 series also integrates state-of-the-art security capabilities that address piracy, counterfeiting and other risks. With a secure boot loader, the SAMA5D3 ensures the integrity and authenticity of the program stored in the boot memory, protecting customers against cloning. The series also includes a hardware encryption engine with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), Triple Data Encryption Standard (3DES) and Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) support to encrypt/decrypt data or communications while a true random number generator (TRNG) can be used to generate or diversify unique keys.
The large majority of Cortex-A core-based devices on the market today are very complex to use, says Gaillard, so Atmel has leveraged the success of the preceding SAM9 series and architected the SAMA5D3 series for ultra ease-of-use including power management at minimal system cost, from a hardware and software perspective. By maximizing software reuse, the SAMA5D3 series provides an easy migration path for Atmel SAM9 customers requiring more performance.
To lower overall system cost, the devices feature a simple power management scheme and includes over three embedded USB ports, eliminating the costs of an external USB hub. The impedance control on the DDR IOS eliminates the need for external serial resistors, and the 0.8mm pitch package supports a simpler and lower cost PCB design.
Designers can access free Atmel Linux distributions at, and a free Android 4.0 port will be available in March at A C-language software package (softpack) is available for non-operating system (OS) use.
Designers can start prototyping their designs with the SAMA5D3 evaluation kits. There is one kit per SAMA5D3 derivative. A kit is delivered with a Linux demonstration software and a graphical user interface (GUI) based on Qt. The softpack is also compatible with the evaluation kit.
The Atmel SAMA5D3 is shipping in a 324-ball BGA package and is in mass production now. Pricing starts below $7.00 for 1,000-piece quantities.


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