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Utilising ARM Cortex-M based SoCs (Part 1)

Posted: 17 Jul 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:system-on-chips? ARM? Cortex M? SoC? PSoC?

In this series, we will tackle various aspects of designing multi-core-based system-on-chips (SoCs), including the typical architecture of an SoC; how the design of mixed signal embedded systems is simplified; how design changes can be easily implemented without negatively impacting time to market; the tools available for developing complicated applications; and key business advantages of using SoCs.

We will use ARM Cortex M processor cores as our basic building blocks, widely used because of their low cost, low power operation capability, configurable processors, and simple design. They are based upon a RISC architecture that requires a low transistor count, resulting in reduction of power dissipation, thermal dissipation, and cost. And while most of our discussion will deal with issues that could apply to all system-on-chip designs, it will also make reference to features only available on programmable SoCs, such as the Cypress PSoC architecture.

The system-on-chip (SoC) architecture
A system-on-chip (SoC) is an integrated circuit which packs multiple peripherals of an electronic system (memory, connectivity, analogue, and digital peripherals) on a single substrate with a processor at its heart. The processor can be a microcontroller, microprocessor, or DSP core. SoCs are becoming popular because of their smaller size, reduced power consumption, and reduced assembly costs compared to traditional microcontroller architectures. Figure 1 shows a standard SoC with multiple peripherals connected by a data bus.

Figure 1: General SoC architecture.

Now let's look at the details of hardware components of SoC shown above. On the hardware side, an SoC can be thought of as a Lego board. It is easy to utilise the blocks which are required in the application and leave the other blocks. The hardware portion of a SoC consists of components like:

Core Processor: This is the most important component of the SoC as it controls all other peripherals on the SoC apart from general processor tasks.

System Memory: This is divided into Flash memory for code storage, RAM for data, ROM for boot-code of the device, EEPROM, and an External Memory Interface (EMIF). The ARM architecture provides easy method for mapping memory and peripherals, leading to a reduction in SoC design time.

Digital peripherals: Generally, SoCs are integrated with digital peripherals like counters, PWM, Timer, digital filters, etc. Some SoC also provide basic logic gates, flip-flops, multiplexers, and de-multiplexers, etc.

Analogue peripherals: Along with digital peripherals, SoCs also come with a lone list of analogue components to provide mixed signal capabilities. Analogue peripherals like ADCs, op-amps (comparator, amplifier, TIA, mixer, etc), current and voltage sources, etc. generally form the analogue portion of the SoC.

Communication peripherals: SoC are fitted with multiple communication interfaces like USB, UART, I2C, I2S, Ethernet, SPI, CAN, Bluetooth, etc. SoCs use these interfaces to communicate with external devices like another SoC, a base station, or a server.

Special I/O systems: Some SoC also provide special I/O systems like capacitive touch detection and LCD and LED drivers.

Figure 2: Application built using PSoC Creator software.

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