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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?

After completing the design on paper, select the components needed to implement the design. This requires substantial effort given that the developer has to choose a component carefully by matching it against the design's specific requirements.

PCB manufacture and assembly
The next step to design is to build the system on a PCB as per the theoretical design. Assembly should be dealt with care because of high component count in the design.

Firmware development
Now the developer moves to the next step by writing the required firmware for the processor. The firmware development process is fairly standard and has evolved over time. The major concern for the system developer is to write optimised code with the smallest memory footprint and no bugs.

Debugging the system
This is one of the most crucial parts of embedded system design. Generally, applications do not work at first go and it is critical to debug and find what is breaking the application. Debugging a large board with many components can be a challenging task because the developer has to verify signal continuity and appropriate signal presence at every test point to find what is breaking the application.

Mass production
After this long process to design and fix the design on a few initial boards, the design can proceed to mass production.

Figure 4: Design flow of an embedded system.

During any point of the development process, requirements might change leading to a need to re-work the entire process. There might be a need to introduce new functionality that requires adding new interfaces and/or new components to the design.

There might be a scenario in which the scope of the system is changed and the developer has to replace a component with a more precise component. Changes like these introduce delays for the product to reach the target market and can lead to losses for the OEM.

SoC-based system development approach: The traditional way of designing an embedded system is greatly simplified by the advent of the SoC. As shown in figure 5, all the steps of the design process become simpler and provide more flexibility in the hands of developers.

Figure 5: Component selection options in SoC.

Now let us see how SoC addresses the issues faced in the traditional way of developing embedded application, as follows.

Schematic design
A SoC approach makes schematic design simpler because of a reduction in BOM. The high integration of the SoC replaces many components in the schematic, leading to a substantial reduction in complexity. The design can then be completed using the software suite provided by the SoC vendor. This design includes all components that are required and are available on the SoC. Additional components/interfaces can be connected to the SoC externally on the PCB like buzzer, LCD display, or USB hardware port.

Component selection
Components can be selected from the software suite and added to the design. Since components are configurable, they can be modified to match the application. Figure 5 shows the component list provided by PSoC Creator for PSoC 4 devices.

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