Tag Archives: ARM Cortex A5 processor MPUs

The smart router is ready for IoT play

The evolution of router has reached the IoT’s doorsteps, and it raises some interesting prospects for industrial and smart home markets.

The router used to be largely a dumb device. Not anymore in the Internet of Things arena where node intelligence is imperative to make a play of the sheer amount of data acquired from sensors, machines and other ‘things.’ The IoT router marks a new era of network intelligence — but what makes a router smart?


For starters, it employs embedded hardware platforms with DIY capabilities while balancing the performance and power consumption requirements. Next, an IoT router provides the operational status on an LCD screen while manipulating the data from different interfaces. In human machine interface (HMI) applications, for example, a smart router offers LCD and touch screen interfaces on expansion I/Os.

Take the case of the DAB-OWRT-53 smart router, which is developed by the Belgian design house DAB-Embedded. The sub-100 euro device — based on Atmel’s SAMA5D36 processor and OpenWRT router hardware platform — is mainly targeted at smart home and industrial IoT applications.

The smart router of DAB-Embedded

The IoT router supports popular wireless interfaces such as Wi-Fi, ZigBee and Z-Wave, as well as a diverse number of wired interfaces including Ethernet, USB, CAN 2.0A/B, KNX and RS-232. And all the data from these interfaces can be stored in either microSD card or NAND flash.

Anatomy of Smart Router

The Atmel | SMART SAMA5D36 is at the heart of the smart router design. First and foremost, it optimizes power consumption in the battery-operated router that features 3.7V lithium polymer battery support with charging capability over a microUSB connector. The router boasts eight hours of battery lifetime while being in full ON mode with Wi-Fi communications.

Second, the ARM Cortex-A5 processor shows a robust performance in the communications domain. For instance, the SAMA5D36 implements routing functionality to transfer data from one Ethernet port to another in a way that router designers don’t require an external hardware hub or switch. Moreover, Atmel’s MPU offers greater flexibility to run a lot of embedded software packages such as OpenZWave and LinuxMCE.

Third, the SAMA5D36-based IoT router offers users the ability to manipulate firewall settings, Disable PING, Telnet, SSH and UPnP features. Furthermore, the hardware security block in SAMA5D3 processor allows the use of CryptoDev Linux drivers to speed up the OpenSSL implementation. The Wi-Fi module — powered by Atmel’s WILC3000 single-chip solution — also supports the IEEE 802.11 WEP, WPA and WPA2 security mechanisms.

The smart router of DAB-Embedded employs Active-Semi’s ACT8945AQJ305-T power management IC, but the real surprise is Altera’s MAX 10 FPGA with an integrated analog-to-digital converter (ADC). That brings the additional flexibility for the main CPU: Atmel’s SAMA5D36.

The FPGA is connected to the 16-bit external bus interface (EBI) so that IoT developers can put any IP core in FPGA for communication with external sensors. All data is converted inside the FPGA to a specific format by using NIOS II’s soft CPU in FPGA. Next, the SAMA5D36 processor reads this data by employing DMA channel over the high-speed mezzanine card (HSMC) bus.

An FPGA has enough cells to start even two soft cores for data preprocessing. Case in point: A weather station with 8-channel external ADC managing light sensors, temperature sensors, pressure sensors and more. It’s connected to the FPGA together with PPS signal from GPS for correct time synchronization of each measurement.


OpenWRT Framework

The SAMA5D36 embedded processor enables DAB’s smart router design to customize free OpenWRT Linux firmware according to the specific IoT application needs. The OpenWRT framework facilitates an easy way to set up router-like devices equipped with communications interfaces such as dual-port Ethernet and Wi-Fi connection.

What’s more, by using the OpenWRT framework, an IoT developer can add now his or her own application (C/C++) to exchange data with a KNX or Z-Wave transceiver. OpenWRT even supports the Lua embedded interpreter.

Next, while DAB-Embedded has built its smart router using the embedded Linux with OpenWRT framework, Belgium’s design house also offers a board support package (BSP) based on the Windows Embedded Compact 2013 software. That’s for IoT developers who have invested in Windows applications and want to use them on the new hardware: the DAB-OWRT-53 smart router.

Later, the embedded design firm plans to release smart router hardware based on the Windows 10 IoT software and Atmel’s SAMA5D family of embedded processors. The Belgian developer of IoT products has vowed to release the second version of its router board based on Atmel’s SAMA5D4 embedded processor and WILC3000 chipset that comes integrated with power amplifier, LNA, switch and power management. Atmel’s WILC3000 single-chip solution boasts IEEE 802.11 b/g/n RF/baseband/MAC link controller and Bluetooth 4.0 connection.

Majeed Ahmad is the author of books Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics and The Next Web of 50 Billion Devices: Mobile Internet’s Past, Present and Future.

Profile of an IoT processor for the industrial and consumer markets

 If there’s a single major stumbling block that is hindering the IoT take-off at the larger industrial scale, it’s security.

The intersection of data with intelligent machines is creating new possibilities in industrial automation, and this new frontier is now being increasingly known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). However, if there is a single major stumbling block that is hindering the IoT take-off at the larger industrial scale, it’s security.

It’s imperative to have reliable data in the industrial automation environment, and here, the additional security layers in the IoT hardware often lead to compromises in performance. Then, there is counterfeiting of products and application software, which is becoming a growing concern in the rapidly expanding IoT market.


Atmel’s answer to security concerns in the IIoT infrastructure: a microprocessor (MPU) that can deliver the security while maintaining the level of performance that Internet-connected systems require. The company’s Cortex A5 chip — the Atmel | SMART SAMA5D4 — securely stores and transfers data, as well as safeguards software assets to prevent cloning of IoT applications.

The SAMA5D4 series of MPUs enables on-the-fly encryption and decryption of software code from the external DRAM. Moreover, it boasts security features such as secure boot, tamper detection pins and safe erasure of security-critical data. The A5D4 processor also incorporates ARM’s system-wide security approach, TrustZone, which is used to secure peripherals such as memory and crypto blocks. TrustZone —comprising of security extensions that can be implemented in a number of ARM cores — is tightly integrated into ARM’s Cortex-A processors. It runs the processor in two different modes: First, a secure environment executes critical security and safety software, and secondly, a normal environment runs the rich OS software applications such as Linux. This lets embedded designers isolate critical software from OS software.

The system approach allows control access to CPU, memories, DMA and peripherals with programmable secure regions. That, in turn, ensures that on-chip parts like CPU and off-chip parts like peripherals are protected from software attacks.


Performance Uplift

The Atmel SMART | SAMA5D4 processor is based on the Cortex-A5, the smallest and simplest of the Cortex-A series cores that support the 32-bit ARMv7 instruction set. It’s targeted at applications requiring high-precision computing and fast signal processing — that includes industrial and consumer applications such as control panels, communication gateways and imaging terminals.

The use cases for SAMA5D4 span from kiosks, vending machines and barcode scanners, to smart grid, communications gateways and control panels for security, home automation, thermostats, etc. Atmel’s MPU features peripherals for connectivity and user interface applications. For instance, it offers a TFT LCD controller for human-machine interface (HMI) and control panel applications and a dual Ethernet MAC for networking and gateway solutions.

Apart from providing high-grade security, SAMA5D4 adds two other crucial features to address the limitations of its predecessor, SAMA5D3 processor. First, it uplifts performance through ARM’s NEON DSP engine and 128kB L2 cache. The NEON DSP with 128-bit single instruction, multiple data (SIMD) architecture accelerates signal processing for more effective handling of multimedia and graphics. Likewise, L2 cache enhances data processing capability for imaging applications.

The second prominent feature of the SAMA5D4 is video playback that boasts 720p resolution hardware video decoder with post-image processing capability. Atmel’s embedded processor offers video playback for H.264, VP8 and MPEG4 formats at 30fps.

A Quick Overview of the SAMA5D4

The SAMA5D4 processor, which got a 14 percent performance boost from its predecessor MPU, increasing operating speed to 528 MHz, is a testament of the changing microprocessor market in the IoT arena. Atmel’s microprocessor for IoT markets delivers 840 DMIPS that can facilitate imaging-centric applications hungry for processing power. Aside from that, the SAMA5D4 is equipped with a 32-bit wide DDR controller running up to 176 MHz, which can deliver up to 1408MB/s of bandwidth. That’s a critical element for high-speed peripherals common in the industrial environments where microprocessors are required to process large amounts of data.


Finally, the SAMA5D4 is configurable in either a 16- or 32-bit bus interface allowing developers a trade-off between performance and memory cost. There are four distinct chips in the SAMA5D4 family: SAMA5D41 (16-bit DDR), SAMA5D42 (32-bit DDR), SAMA5D43 (16-bit DDR along with H.264 video decoder)and SAMA5D44 (32-bit DDR along with H.264 video decoder).

The SoC-specific hardware security and embedded vision capabilities are a stark reminder of specific requirements of different facets of IoT, in this case, industrial and consumers markets. And Atmel’s specific focus on security and rich media just shows how the semiconductor industry is getting around the key IoT stumbling blocks.

Majeed Ahmad is the author of books Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics and The Next Web of 50 Billion Devices: Mobile Internet’s Past, Present and Future.

Baskin-Robbins only has 31 flavors, Atmel has 505

Actually these days even Baskin-Robbins has more, but not 505 like Atmel. That’s a lot. While some are AVR, both 8-bit and 32-bit, others are various flavors of ARM (all 32-bit) ranging from older parts like the ARM9 to various flavors of Cortex ranging from the M0 (tiny microcontroller with no pipeline or cache) up to A5. Of course, the ARM product line goes all the way up to 64-bit Cortex-A57 and so on — but they are not in any sense of the word microcontrollers and are really only used in SoCs and not standalone products.

But with 505 choices, how do you pick one? Fortunately, Atmel has made it easy for you to navigate the various flavors. With the help of the company’s MCU product finder, you now have the ability to input your hard constraints, while the tool will narrow down the choices. For example, if you want your microcontroller to have at least 64 Kbytes of flash, then there are only 257 out of the 505 that will suit your needs. For each parameter, users can set minimums and maximums — except for the yes/no choices.

When it comes to the selection process, there are several things that you can constrain:

  • Flash memory (0 to 2Mbytes)
  • Pin count (6 to 324)
  • Operating frequency (1 to 536MHz)
  • CPU architecture (pick from 8-bit AVR, 32-bit AVR, ARM 926 and 920, ARM Cortex M0, M3, M4, A5)
  • SRAM (30 bytes to 256 Kbytes)
  • EEPROM (none to 8 Kbytes)
  • Max I/O pins (4 to 160)
  • picoPower (yes or no)
  • Operating voltage (various ranges from 0.7V to 6V)
  • Operating temperature (various from -20oC to 150oC)
  • Number of touch channels (none to 256)
  • Number of timers (1 to 10)
  • Watchdog (yes or no)
  • 32KHz real time clock (yes or no)
  • Analog comparators (0 to 8)
  • Temperature sensor (yes or no)
  • ADC resolution (8 to 16 bits)
  • ADC channels (2 to 28)
  • DAC channels (0 to 4)
  • UARTs (0 to 8)
  • SPI (1 to 12)
  • TWI (aka I2C) interface (none to 6)
  • USB interface (none, device only, host+OTG, host and device)
  • PWM channels (0 to 36)
  • Ethernet interfaces (none to 2)
  • CAN interfaces (none to 2)

Wow, that’s a lot of options! But after a couple of dozen selections, you can narrow down your choice to something manageable. Here’s how the interface will appear:

Say for instance, I wanted to pick a microcontroller, an ARM Cortex of some flavor. Already choices are down to 189. I want 32K to 128K of flash (now down to 73 choices). I want it to run at an operating frequency of at least 64 MHz (now down to 10). I want 4K of SRAM (turns out all 10 choices already have that much). I need 4 timers. I am now down to 2 choices:

These two choices are the ATSAM3S1C and the ATSAM3S2C — both ARM Cortex-M3s. The first has 64K of flash and the second 128K. I can click on the little PDF icon and access a full datasheet for these microprocessors. If I don’t like the choices and I have some flexibility on specs, then obviously I can go back and play with the parameters to get some new options.

I can click on the “S” to order samples. However, in order to do this, you must already have an Atmel account. Or, with just another click on the shopping cart icon, I can obtain a list of distributors throughout various geographic regions, where I can actually place an order. It even tells me how many each of them have in stock!

For those of you ready to start searching, you can find the Atmel Microcontrollers Selector here.

This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Paul McLellan is a featured blogger. It first appeared there on March 2, 2014.

Atmel announces Embedded World lineup

Next week, Atmel will be launching a number of new products to drive smart, connected devices in the era of the Internet of Things (IoT) at Embedded World 2014 in Nuremberg, Germany.

Some of the new products, along with interactive demos, will be showcased at the official Atmel booth located in Hall 4A / #4A-220 and include:

Solutions in Embedded Processing

Solutions in Connectivity

  • World’s first highly integrated, ultra-low power Wi-Fi IoT module powered by Atmel’s Cortex M0+ MCUs.
  • Atmel’s SAMR21, a new family of Cortex M0+ based ultra-low power wireless microcontrollers targeting ZigBee and 6LoWPAN.
  • A new series of automotive LIN (local interconnect networking) SBC (system basis chip) solutions to better connect in-vehicle systems.

Solutions in Software and Tools

Atmel will also be launching the new Studio 6.2 integrated development platform (in beta), which features a new debug probe with advanced debugging to accelerate time-to-market. In addition, Atmel is slated to showcase various demos in the embedded processing, connectivity and software/tools segments, including:

  • Capacitive touch capability with Atmel’s QTouch technologies – Highlights various home appliances to demonstrate conductive immunity and moisture tolerance, along with an Xplained Pro board and capacitive touch extension board.
  • New ARM MCU solutions – A SAM4E data logger with signal processing based on Atmel’s ARM Cortex-M4 MCUs and a SAM D20 global positioning system tracker based on Atmel’s ARM Cortex-M0+ MCUs.
  • SAM A5 MPU applications – A new SAMA5D3 Xplained board, a low-cost ARM Cortex A5 processor kit, a smart thermostat, a home automation and smart fridge demo with a 7” capacitive touch panel.

Other notable demos include Ivee Sleek Wi-Fi, a voice-activated assistance for the home that helps manage and control connected devices without hands; a finger print, voice-search, secure Bluetooth / USB drive that displays passwords; a tiny automatic camera and app that boasts a searchable and shareable photographic memory and a 5mm x 5mm Cortex-A5 System on Module card. 

A polyphase smart e-metering board based on a dual ARM Cortex-M4 core system-on-chip with an integrated metrology AFE will also be on display in the booth.

For Connectivity


Atmel’s Wi-Fi connectivity solutions – A Turtle Beach i60 headset and Roku 3 box used on a Vizio M-Series flat panel on display.
  • Upcoming ultra-low power IoT module – Integrates the company’s Wi-Fi technology with a Cortex M0+ core. We will be showcasing the latest Xplained PRO Starter demo kit using this soon-to-be-announced Wi-Fi IoT module.

The new SAMR21 family of wireless MCUs (supported by the new SAMR21 Xplained PRO evaluation kits) – Ideal as a platform for evaluating and developing the SAMR21 wireless MCUs.
  • ZigBee and open-source 6LoWPAN solutions with cloud services.

For Software and Tools

Along with the new Atmel Studio 6.2 and Atmel-ICE, we will be demoing our latest integrated development platform and advanced debug probe. We will also be highlighting a new SAMA5D3 Xplained cost-effective kit based on the ARM Cortex-A5 processor MPU, as well as the new Xplained Mini ultra-low cost evaluation kit with an Atmel 8-bit AVR, low pin-count MCU for less than USD $10. 

In addition, we plan on hosting several Arduino board demonstrations based on Atmel MCUs for our Maker community. And, by popular demand, Atmel will also be showcasing its advanced AvantCar demo, a next-generation automotive center console concept with curved touchscreens that illustrates the combined use of Atmel’s XSense, maXTouch, QTouch, and 8-bit AVR MCU technologies.

Meanwhile, Atmel’s low-power MCU Expert Bob Martin is scheduled to present “Differentiating and Optimizing for Static and Active Microcontroller Modes” during the hands-on workshop: “Applying Optimizing Techniques for Ultra-low Power Microcontrollers” (Class 07) on Wednesday, February 26. In this 9:00 am – 5:00 pm CET day-long session, Martin will be presenting at 9:15 am CET. Last, but certainly not least, Atmel will be announcing winners from its AVR Hero Design contest at the show.