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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Freescale combines ARM Cortex M4 and A5 cores in single chip

For simultaneous, deterministic real-time control and graphics-rich applications processing for industrial and automotive applications 
By Nick Flaherty

Freescale Semiconductor has combined a high-performance ARM microcontroller (MCU) and an energy-efficient applications processor for simultaneous real-time control, graphics-rich apps processing and flexible connectivity.
The asymmetrical-multiprocessing-architecture platform incorporates an ARM Cortex-M4 microcontroller and a Cortex-A5 processor as the basis of a new family of devices alongside the in the ARM-based Kinetis and i.MX ranges.
"With this platform, Freescale is dramatically simplifying the development challenge of adding applications processing to a system designed for real-time control," said Reza Kazerounian, senior vice president and general manager of Freescale's Microcontroller Solutions Group. "We're the first to provide extensive MCU and apps processing capabilities in an integrated hardware-software based solution, setting a new standard for the design of systems that need rich apps in real time."
The platform offers a wide range of peripherals from analogue-to-digital converters, digital-to-analogue converters, programmable timers, on-chip memory and flexible memory interfaces to high-speed communication interfaces and security.
On top of the hardware product platform, Freescale will provide an inter-process communication (IPC) application programming interface (API). Designers will be able to use the hardware and IPC API to create differentiated applications without worrying about how the high-level OS (like Linux) and RTOS (such as MQX) communicate with each other.
Industrial systems are becoming more complex, with increasing needs for sophisticated human-machine interfaces (HMIs), connectivity options and compliance with safety standards, all while operating consistently and predictably as they execute tasks. Different computing paradigms are needed to provide HMI functionality and deterministic, real-time control. Application developers face the challenge of seamlessly integrating these diverse technologies in a single system.
The ARM Cortex-A5 processor provides an optimal combination of power, performance and price for embedded automotive, consumer and industrial devices. It provides a high-value migration path for existing ARM926EJ-S and ARM1176JZ-S processor designs. It achieves better performance than the ARM1176JZ-S and better power and energy efficiency than the ARM926EJ-S, and it is fully compatible with other Cortex-A cores.
"Industrial applications like factory automation, medical devices and appliances are starting to incorporate more connectivity and sophisticated GUIs to give end users a simpler, safer and more consumer-like experience. Adding these features to a real-time system has traditionally been done by adding an applications processor on top of a real-time controller, which can be a real challenge for industrial system developers," said Tony Massimini, chief of technology for Semico Research. "Freescale is taking a unique approach with a new product platform that merges an apps processor and real-time controller into one device to reduce complexity and cost, combined with a 'software before silicon' strategy for earlier software development."
Freescale plans to offer the initial software development platform for its new product platform later this quarter and intends to announce the first industrial-focused eMPU product families based on the new architecture in Q1 2012. Derivatives of the new platform are planned for the automotive infotainment market. Automotive device details will be announced in Q2 2012.

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