Arm DesignStart program accelerates Linux-based design

22nd October 2018
Joe Bush

While the breadth of IoT provides endless possibilities for advanced software development, it also holds challenges for designers. In a rapidly changing and competitive market, designers need to differentiate their products and deliver enhanced designs at the lowest cost in the fastest time possible. Phil Burr, director, portfolio product management, Arm, explains.

One avenue for differentiation is ‘rich embedded processing’, which Arm define as providing an advanced level of performance and sophistication. Sometimes that includes an interactive user interface, but on the whole, it is about offering advanced capability. These products use a comprehensive set of software stacks and benefit from the breadth of ready-to-run middleware and applications available on fully featured operating systems such as Linux. Companies developing rich embedded IoT designs are now turning toward application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to meet their specific needs.

Faster, easier access to the Cortex-A5 processor through DesignStart

Having listened to the developer community and their request for easy access to an Arm Linux-capable processor for advanced design, Arm are expanding the DesignStart program to include Cortex-A5, Arm’s lowest power, most area efficient application processor. DesignStart has opened up Arm CPUs to even more designers, with over 3,000 CPU prototyping downloads in the last 12 months alone, including one company who went from concept to tape-out in less than six months.

Arm are taking the program to the next level with the Cortex-A5 – a high-performance, feature-rich processor shipped in over two billion devices to date and chosen by top cloud vendors as the entry point for edge IoT processing. “Seventy-percent of rich embedded devices are based on Arm and it is well suited for innovative, cost-sensitive applications with advanced requirements, in diverse markets such as medical, smart home and industrial,” said Burr.

The DesignStart program now provides access to the Cortex-A5 processor through a web portal and a simplified contract, speeding up time to market. Its small footprint (<0.3mm when implemented on a 40nm process) and ultra-high efficiency (~100uW/MHz active power when implemented on a 40nm process) allows for reduced fabrication costs and the lowest idle power among Cortex-A CPUs. It offers between 70% and 80% of the performance of Cortex-A7, Cortex-A9, and Cortex-A32 processors.  It can be configured as a fully coherent quad-core design with advanced SIMD data processing, and a high-performance accelerator port for fast connection to machine learning or other custom processors.

The addition of Cortex-A5 to the program means developers can design confidently with access to the largest technology ecosystem, offering a wealth of resources and a strong foundation on which to scale their products.

Unlock software innovation with access to Linux on Arm

Arm is now providing developers with the lowest cost access to a Linux-capable Arm CPU. IP access, including one-year design support from Arm experts, is $75k, with an alternative option of $150k access fee that includes three years of support to help achieve right-first-time silicon.

Burr added: “Arm is the primary architecture for embedded Linux and Android, with hundreds of Linux-based projects that already run on Arm. Linaro and Arm’s combined efforts rank among the top 3 contributors to the Linux kernel.

“The positive impact on project timescales and costs of having so many ready-to-run operating systems, middleware, codecs, and applications on Arm cannot be overstated – by choosing Arm, developers will make huge cost savings on software development alone.

“The Cortex-A5 will also enable advanced machine learning applications with Arm’s Neural Network inference engine, which is part of Linaro’s Machine Learning Initiative, providing wide ecosystem support.

“In addition to this, last week we announced Mbed Linux OS, which builds on our Mbed OS solution – the leading IoT platform OS with more than 350,000 developers. This enables secure and rapid development and device management through the Pelion IoT Platform of IoT devices based on Cortex-A for the first time.”

Faster SoC development The Cortex-A5 package in DesignStart includes flexible system IP for area and power-optimised SoC development. Key benefits of this comprehensive system IP include:

  • Proven SoC foundation - flexible system IP for area and power-optimized SoC development
  • Low-latency interconnect - Arm CoreLink NIC-400 provides configurable and low-power connectivity with design flexibility
  • Seamless debugging – industry standard CoreSight debug and trace solution
  • System-wide security - TrustZone technology provides hardware-enforced isolation to establish a secure root of trust

When ready to tape out a custom chip, time to market can be accelerated with Arm’s vast range of Artisan physical IP. Developers can also benefit from design enablement platforms being supported by 18 foundry partners with process technology ranging from 250nm to 5nm.

Continuing DesignStart momentum

Burr added: “Earlier this month we announced that DesignStart is now offering Cortex-M processors without any license fee or royalty on Xilinx FPGAs. Through expanding the program to offer Cortex-A5, we hope to support innovation across the entire design spectrum of embedded and IoT devices, catering to the diverse requirements of this dynamic market. DesignStart also helps speed up SoC implementation with free access to the industry-leading library of physical IP, tailored for a range of fabs and process nodes, through Arm Artisan physical IP.

“Our DesignStart mission is to make access to Arm IP as simple as possible. With thousands of successful tape outs over the past 10 years, we look forward to seeing what possibilities the future holds.”

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