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ARM comes to XMOS xCORE real-time MCU architecture

September 26, 2014

Bernard Cole-September 26, 2014

In the lead-up to ARM Techcon, XMOS this week has made available to developers a new modular development system that combines itss xCORE-XA range of eXtended Architecture xCORE devices with an ARM Cortex M3 processor in a single device.

XMOS will be demonstrating the new xCORE-XA development system at the ARM TechCon in Santa Clara, CA from 30 September 2014. Interested developers will have the opportunity to win a core module board by visiting the XMOS Booth (#700) at the show.

The system features a base processor board with real-time hardware debug facilities, xTIMEcomposer Studio tools for integrated code development, and a range of application specific daughter- and mother-cards, the first of which, for Industrial Ethernet and Fieldbus systems, is also announced this week.

The new system allows embedded designers to develop, debug and prototype products based on the range of powerful xCORE-XA devices,  which combine multiple deterministic 32-bit xCORE logical cores with an ARM Cortex M3 processor in a single device.

xCORE-XA can be programmed in C with the exact set of interfaces and peripherals required for any design. In the same design, engineers can re-use existing ARM code and leverage the rich ARM ecosystem, including standard code libraries that can dramatically accelerate product design time.

The xCORE-XA industrial solution will be particularly useful for independent software vendors (ISVs) seeking a single programmable platform capable of supporting multiple Industrial Ethernet and Fieldbus protocols. It also allows industrial automation OEMs and other customers to exploit the flexibility and programmability of the xCORE architecture while continuing to leverage their existing protocol stacks and other IP designed for the ARM architecture.

The heart of the development system is the core processor module (Figure below), featuring an eight-core xCORE-XA device and fully-featured real-time hardware debug facilities allowing integrated development of ARM and xCORE code.

Designers can use high-level software to configure a device with the exact set of interfaces and peripherals required for its target application, while at the same time re-using existing ARM binary code and taking advantage of ultra-low-energy, fixed-function peripherals.

Multiple xCORE processor cores can be used to perform real-time data-plane, control, and DSP tasks, while the ARM core can be used to run control plane software like communication protocol stacks, standard graphics libraries, and complex monitoring systems.

The combination of multiple 32-bit processor cores, the ARM Cortex-M3 core, and the extensive library of xSOFTip software peripherals means that designers can effectively create a custom SoC on-the-fly.

The board communicates via USB with a host PC running XMOS’s free-to-download xTIMEcomposer Studio development tools. xTIMEcomposer includes comprehensive design entry, compilation, real-time debug and software-based logic analysis for ARM and multiple xCORE processor cores via a single screen.

The xCORE-XA I/O is fully routed to 0.1” pitch header connections, with each set including power, ground and reset, allowing maximum flexibility and easy prototype configuration. Power to the debuggers can be disabled so that the module can be used as part of a target system.

The processor module can be mounted onto an application specific motherboard; or daughter boards may be plugged into it. The xCORE-XA industrial networking module will be the first available motherboard, providing two Industrial Ethernet ports and support for a range of serial Fieldbus protocols including CAN and LIN.

The industrial module includes hardware support for a variety of industrial standard interfaces, including a 12Mbps RS485 transceiver and Profibus connector. When combined with the software-configurable xCORE peripheral architecture, these hardware features allow customers and ISVs to implement a broad range of standard and proprietary serial and Industrial Ethernet protocols.

The xCORE-XA device at the heart of the development system is the XS1-XAU8A-10, featuring eight 32-bit processors (seven xCORE logical cores plus an ARM Cortex-M3 processor), 192KB SRAM, and 1024KB of Flash.

The device includes a low energy USB interface, ultra low-energy peripherals and analog functions including ADC, DAC, op-amps and capacitive sensing comparators. Like all xCORE-XA devices, the XA-U8-1024 can make use of the wide range of xSOFTip software peripherals from XMOS’s growing library.

The xCORE-XA architecture provides flexible energy management modes. It requires less than 1µA of current to run the integrated real-time clock and 32kHz peripherals, for fast turn-on and time-polled operation. In power- down mode, the device will draw less than 100nA and can wake-up from a GPIO or reset input.

Core module boards are sampling to lead customers now, with availability through distribution in December 2014.

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