Tag Archives: performance

Newark debuts new Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained board

Newark element14 has debuted a new Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained evaluation kit – a low-cost, fast prototyping and evaluation platform for microprocessor-based design.

The board, which is built around Atmel’s SAMA5D3 ARM Cortex-A5 processor-based MPU, is packed with a rich set of ready-to-use connectivity and storage peripherals, along with Arduino shield-compatible expansion headers for easy customization. In addition, the platform is a perfect target for headless Android projects, while a Linux distribution and software package facilitates rapid software development.

“Our partnership with Newark element14 on the development and manufacturing of this kit and its first set of expansion boards enables engineers from all communities to build applications requiring rapid prototyping and evaluation for their MPU designs,” said Jacko Wilbrink, Sr. Marketing Director of Microprocessors, Atmel Corporation.

“The new board offers features such as mid-range graphical user interfaces, capacitive touch capability, wired and wireless communication, free of charge Linux distribution and QT developer’s kit.”

Meanwhile, David Shen, Chief Technology Officer at Premier Farnell, noted that Atmel’s versatile ARM Cortex-A5 processor-based MPUs neatly balance performance with ultra low power consumption.

“This new Atmel Xplained kit, in addition to our soon-to-be-available expansion boards which will add more capabilities to the SAMA5D3 platform, will be very helpful to professional engineers as well as Makers, hobbyists, educators and students, both within and outside their main employment.”

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the SAMA5D3 series is ideal for wearable computing and mobile applications where low power and a small footprint are critical. Key SAMA5D3 Xplained features include:

  • Fully documented and readily available Cortex-A5 based MPU solution
  • Rich set of peripherals, specifically on connectivity
  • USB power (no need for power adaptor)
  • Flexibility – Arduino-compatible connectors, enabling the user to leverage the extensive Arduino shields ecosystem
  • 
Open Source hardware – All design files available; easy to reuse in customer projects
Software package with drivers and examples for bare metal developers
  • Qt developers kit and Linux distribution free of charge

The SAMA5D3 Xplained – priced at $79 – is slated to ship in mid-March 2014 from Farnell element14 in Europe, Newark element14 in North America and element14 in APAC. You can pre-register for the new Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained board here.

Low-power design in the age of IoT

Facilitating low-power designs for electronic devices is more important than ever before as we move toward a world dominated by the Internet of Things (IoT).

Essentially, the IoT refers a future scenario in which all types of electronic devices link to each other via the Internet. Today, it’s estimated that there are nearly 10 billion devices in the world connected to the Internet, a figure expected to triple to nearly 30 billion by 2020.

The challenge? Reducing power consumption (to extend battery life) while simultaneously maintaining acceptable levels of performance. Fortunately, Atmel has been focusing on low power consumption for more than ten years across its extensive portfolio of AVR and ARM-based microcontrollers and embedded microprocessors.

Design techniques employed to achieve the critical balance between power consumption and performance include:

  • Use of hardware DMA and event system to offload the CPU
  • Cut clock or supply on device portions not in use
  • Careful balance of high performance and low leakage transistors
  • Fast wake up from low power modes
  • Low voltage operation

“With the Atmel picoPower technology found in our AVR 8-bit and 32-bit microcontrollers, we’ve even gone one step further. All picoPower devices are designed from the ground up for lowest possible power consumption – all the way from transistor design and process geometry, to sleepmodes and flexible clocking options,” an Atmel engineering rep told Bits & Pieces.

“Atmel picoPower devices can operate down to 1.62V while still maintaining all functionality, including analog functions. They have short wake-up time, with multiple wake-up sources from even the deepest sleep modes.”

Although certain elements of picoPower tech cannot be directly configured by the user, they do form a solid base that facilitates ultra-low-power application development without compromising functionality. On the user level, flexible and powerful features and peripherals allow engineers to more easily apply a wide range of techniques to reduce a system’s total power consumption even further. As expected, picoPower technology is also relatively simple to deploy, with both basic and advanced techniques reducing the power consumption of an application even further.

A perfect example of Atmel’s commitment to low-power devices is the 0.7V tinyAVR. Remember, a typical microcontroller requires at least 1.8V to operate – while the voltage of a single battery-cell ranges from 1.2V to 1.5V when fully charged, dropping gradually below 1V during use (yet still holding a reasonable amount of charge). This means the average microcontroller requires at least two battery cells.

“We have solved this problem by integrating a boost converter inside the ATtiny43U, converting a DC voltage to a higher level and bridging the gap between minimum supply voltage of the microcontroller and the typical output voltages of a standard single cell battery,” the Atmel engineering rep explained. “The boost converter provides the microcontroller with a fixed supply voltage of 3.0V from a single battery cell even when the battery voltage drops down to 0.7V.”

Simply put, this extends battery life by allowing non-rechargeable batteries to be drained to the minimum, while programmable shut-off levels above the critical minimum voltage level avoid damaging the battery cell of rechargeable batteries.

Interested in learning more about Atmel’s low-power, high performance portfolio? Be sure to check out our extensive ARM and AVR product lineups here.

A closer look at Atmel’s AVR CPU

Atmel’s 8- and 32-bit AVR CPUs are based on advanced Harvard architecture – which is perhaps best known for neatly balancing power consumption with performance.

Like every Harvard architecture device, the AVR CPU is equipped with two busses: one instruction bus where the CPU reads executable instructions; and a second data bus to read or write the corresponding data.

“This ensures that a new instruction can be executed in every clock cycle, which eliminates wait states when no instruction is ready to be executed,” an Atmel engineering rep told Bits & Pieces. “The busses in AVR microcontrollers are configured to provide the CPU instruction bus priority access to the on-chip Flash memory. The CPU data bus has priority access to the SRAM.”

To make the AVR instruction set as efficient as possible, Atmel engineers invited compiler experts from IAR Systems to co-develop the first AVR C compiler. Following extensive refinement, the AVR architecture became optimized for C-code execution, with bottlenecks completely eliminated during the construction phase. This is why AVR has become synonymous with small code size, high performance and low power consumption.

“Usually, when the CPU executes a program, it requires frequent access to a limited set of data, including pointers, loop counters, semaphore status bits and array indexes. In fact, close inspection of source code will reveal that most of the data is only required for a very short amount of time, then later discarded,” the engineering rep explained. “That is why the AVR CPU contains multiple ‘working registers,’ which store dynamic data inside the CPU. Organized in a ‘register file,’ they eliminate the need to move temporary data from CPU to SRAM – only to read it back a few cycles later.”

To be sure, the register file is extremely fast, allowing the CPU to read, execute and store the result back into a register in a single clock cycle. They also require far less energy when accessed, compared to accessing a large SRAM with long address and data lines. Because no cycles are wasted, power consumption for executing code is greatly reduced.

In terms of DSP Instructions, the 32-bit AVR contains a very wide instruction set – with integer, fixed point and floating point DSP instructions – giving it the highest CPU performance of any AVR CPU.

“The 32-bit AVR instruction set also includes saturation and rounding instructions that help speed up loops by requiring no internal range check of intermediate results,” the engineering rep added. “With fast multiply, accumulate, and divide instructions, the 32-bit AVR is the perfect choice for applications that require extensive digital signal processing.”

Interested in learning more about Atmel’s 8- and 32-bit AVR portfolio? Check out our official product page here.