Atmel Bridges MCU-MPU Divide With ARM-based Chips

02 October 2014

Fabless chip supplier Atmel Corp. (San Jose, Calif.) – which has announced its support for ARM's Internet of Things development platform including the mbed operating system – has also used the ARM Techcon event to announce two chip families.

The first is the SAMA5D4 family of microprocessor units (MPUs), an updating of the SAMA5D3 family, and like the SAMA5D3 is based on the Cortex-A5, the smallest and simplest of the Cortex-A series cores that support the 32-bit ARMv7 instruction set. The range is said to be suitable for industrial applications including control panels, communication gateways and imaging terminals.

The chips make use of the Neon DSP engine that is part of Cortex-A to perform accelerated signal processing and to handle multimedia and graphics. The upgrade comes on terms of the ability to offer H264, VP8 and MPEG4 720p video playback capability at 30fps. The SAMA5D4 family also incorporates TrustZone technology for enhanced security.

The SAMA5D4 runs at up to a clock frequency of 528MHz and includes a 720p hardware video decoder, along with a 128kbyte L2 cache. The MPU integrates a TFT LCD display controller. Security functions include on-the-fly execution of encrypted code stored in external memory, tamper detection with erasure of critical data, and hardware encryption engines supporting private and public keys algorithms.

Doubling up with Cortex-M7

Atmel is also one of the lead developers of a microcontroller based on the Cortex-M7 core, which was brought in at the top of the Cortex-M class of cores (see ARM Doubles MCU Performance with Cortex-M7). Atmel identified Cortex-M7 as a means of moving up form traditional MCU-class performance to bridge the gap between microcontrollers and microprocessors.

The first devices in Atmel's "Smart" Cortex-M7 based family of microcontrollers are already sampling to special customers, Atmel said. General sampling to customers will begin in the first quarter of 2015, the company said.

The first devices run at a clock frequency of up to 300MHz Atmel said although ARM had previously claimed that the core implemented in 40nm CMOS should run at 400MHz but Atmel's inclusion of embedded flash suggests that its chips are being manufactured in a 55nm CMOS process. They include up to 384kbytes of SRAM configurable as tightly-coupled memory (TCM) or system memory and up to 2-Mbytes of on-chip flash. A combination of Ethernet-AVB and Media LB peripheral and Cortex-M7 instruction set extensions for DSP make the chips suitable for automotive connectivity and audio applications. Atmel said.

As such these appear to be aimed at the same application ground as the microcontrollers from XMOS Ltd. (Bristol, England).

"As one of the first ARM licensees, we are excited to add the Cortex-M7 core to our already broad portfolio of MCUs and MPUs," said Jacko Wilbrink, senior marketing director at Atmel, in a statement. “The new Cortex-M7-based MCUs leverage our advanced peripherals and flexible SRAM architecture for higher performance applications, while keeping the Cortex-M class ease-of-use."

Related links and articles:

IHS MCU and MPU research

News articles:

ARM Offers Free OS for Internet of Things

ARM Doubles MCU Performance with Cortex-M7

Atmel Acquires Connectivity Chipmaker in IoT Play

Cadence CTO Rowen Forecasts Processor Design Split

Imagination Inserts MIPS into Ensigma Radio for IoT

Cortex-M0 Gets Nearer to Near Threshold

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