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32bit MCUs tout all-around programmability

Posted: 16 Aug 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:metal-programmable 32bit MCUs? ARM-based devices? DSP algorithms?

Atmel Corp. is going into volume production on a new category of customizable metal-programmable 32bit ARM-based MCUs that the company calls Customizable Atmel Processors (CAP).

While the device is not quite a standard product, nor quite an FPGA or a gate array/standard-cell ASIC, the company claims the ARM7 and ARM9-based CAP devices have features and capabilities common to all of those alternatives. At the same time, the devices fit into a price and performance niche that none of the others can adapt to quite as easily, if at all, according to the company.

Unlike FPGA and ASIC vendors that ask customers to make their own arrangements with ARM Ltd, Atmel does not charge license fees or royalties for the ARM cores implemented by the user in the CAP devices. Instead, the company absorbs the cost.

A metal-programmable block with up to 2 million FPGA-equivalent gates makes the customizable processors unique, according to the company. The block can be used to implement DSP algorithms or other intellectual property (IP) commonly implemented in FPGAs, one or more additional processor cores, or additional peripherals not currently available on Atmel's standard-product ARM7- and ARM9-based MCU families.

The result of a two- to three-year development effort, the metal-programmable logic block is an outgrowth of a technique developed by Atmel's standard-cell design group to allow company designers to quickly develop standard products for fast-growing and -developing market segments. Where the original standard-cell process used a two-layer metallization, the metal-programmable cell fabric (MPCF)-based logic block has six layers. Because the layers are customizable at metallization, they enable more efficient routing.

Incorporating a compact eight-transistor core cell that can be configured into more than 400 functional elements using a custom-developed library, the MPCF's efficient cell routing and additional metal layers provide much higher transistor and placement utilization than alternative technologies.

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The MCU-based SoC platform has a metal-programmable block that allows the addition of custom logic.
(Click to view full image.)

By integrating a system's unique IP and glue logic on-chip with the MCU, the on- and off-chip delays associated with comparable FPGA implementations are eliminated. Thus, the logic can run at full bus speed with zero wait states.

Based on the ARM7TDMI processor core, the AT91CAP7S MCUs come with customizable logic equivalent to approximately 28k or 50k FPGA lookup tables (LUTs) or 250k or 450k routable ASIC gates.

The ARM9-based AT91CAP9S integrates a 200MHz ARM926EJ-S core with 16Kbytes each of program and data cache, and customizable logic equivalent to approximately 28k or 56k FPGA LUTs (250k or 500k routable ASIC gates).

-Gina Roos

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