XMOS’ xCORE-XA blends multi-core MCU, ARM core and low-power operation
XMOS has concluded a deal with ARM to add a Cortex-M3 core into its multi-(virtual)-core archtitecure: and with Silicon Labs/Energy Micro to bring in some of the “energy-friendly” techniques used in that company’s Gecko chip series.
Initial offering will be a multi-chip package with two dice, a 7-core xCore device and a low-power Silicon Labs contribution that will add resources such as Silabs’ low-power peripherals and autonomous peripheral-peripheral channel that allows many functions to complete without waking a central processor. The xCore part of the solution is a single-physical-core device that would normally run eight of XMOS’ virtual cores, with one of the eight “slots” now devoted to the ARM core which will connect into the architecture via an AHB channel.
With this device, according to XMOS CEO Nigel Toon, you will be able to create a configurable system-on-chip for an embedded applications, that you can program entirely in C, with multicore capability and at low-power. XMOS presents its existing xCore devices as occupying a gap between conventional MCUs and FPGA-based designs; now it adds low-power to that equation. Toon asserts that FPGAs have developed to offer great flexibility, but with little focus on low-power. He says the XA will have five power modes, drawing on the multiple levels that Silabs/EM products offer, with the lowest offering as little as 100 nA in standby. It requires less than 1µA to run the integrated real-time clock and 32 kHz peripherals, for fast turn-on and time-polled operation. Differentiating factors will be XMOS’ deterministic attributes; the types of peripherals on offer, which will include dual Ethernet ports and the option of USB, with the ability to run sophisticated functions such as motor controls, using separate cores.
ARM, in the person of Nandan Nayampally, vice president, Application Systems Marketing, ARM endorses the concept; “ARM believes that xCORE-XA represents a significant step forward for embedded systems, allowing engineers to create an integrated SoC that is configured completely in high level software.”
The new architecture allows embedded system designers to use high-level software to configure a device with the exact set of interfaces and peripherals needed for their design, while at the same time re-using existing ARM binary code and taking advantage of ultra-low energy peripherals. Designers can also add real-time data-plane plus control processing and DSP blocks, using multiple xCORE processor cores, with the ARM available to run larger control plane processing software such as communication protocol stacks, standard graphics libraries, or complex monitoring systems.
Toon says that, for the first time, embedded system designers no longer have to choose between expensive, power hungry, programmable logic devices, inflexible fixed-function alternatives, or traditional microcontrollers that lack computing power and are constrained by a hardware-defined peripheral set.
The configurable xCORE™ multicore microcontroller technology features multiple deterministic 32-bit processor cores that execute high-level code concurrently. It allows customers to software-configure the exact combination of peripherals and interfaces required for their designs, and enables demanding hard real-time requirements with timing-precise execution. It also delivers advanced DSP and security processing. xCORE-XA extends these capabilities, offering designers access to the rich ARM ecosystem, including standard code libraries that can dramatically accelerate product design time.
The first device in this new family, the XA-U8-1024, features eight 32-bit processors (seven xCORE logical cores plus an ARM Cortex-M3 processor), 192 KB SRAM, and 1024 KB of Flash. The device includes a low energy USB interface, ultra low-energy peripherals and analogue functions including ADC, DAC, op-amps and capacitive sensing comparators. Future family members will include 6-core and 8-core products with Flash sizes ranging from 512 KB to 1024 KB, and device variants with or without the low-energy USB 2.0 interface.
XA-U8-1024 can make use of the range of xSOFTip software peripherals from XMOS’s growing library and is supported with an integrated design-flow, by the xTIMEcomposer Suite of tools that includes comprehensive design entry, compilation and debug support for both the ARM and multiple xCORE processor cores. It will sell for $16.39 in low volumes.
“The xCORE-XA extended architecture redefines what embedded developers can achieve using a programmable platform,” says Toon, “ We believe xCORE-XA represents a completely new class of programmable SoC. Now we can bring system level programmable configuration with hardware levels of real-time performance to low-energy battery-powered applications, configured and programmed completely in software.”