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Atmel revs up Cortex-A5 SoC with video decode, security

Oct 2, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 1,489 views

[Updated Oct 18] — Atmel is sampling a Linux supported, Cortex-A5 based SAMA5D4 SoC that bests the earlier SAMA5D3 with new NEON, L2 cache, 720p decode, and security features.

Atmel announced the SAMA5D4 system-on-chip at ARM TechCon 2014, which is underway this week in Santa Clara, Calif. The SAMA5D4, builds upon the foundation of the earlier SAMA5D3 SoC, and similarly uses ARM’s Cortex-A5 processor. It supports Internet of Things (IoT) applications including control panels, communication gateways, and imaging terminals, says Atmel. The SAMA5D4 is supported with an Atmel Xplained development kit, as well as a mainline Linux BSP, with Android support coming in December.

SAMA5D4 block diagram (more detailed version below)
(click image to enlarge)

The SAMA5D4 series is comprised of four models, split between BGA289 and BGA361 packages. The SoC is clocked slightly lower than the SAMA5D3, at 528MHz (840DMIPS) compared to 536MHz (850DMIPS). However, it adds ARM’s NEON Media Processing Engine (MPE), which provides support for the ARM v7 Advanced SIMD v2 and Vector Floating-Point v4 (VFPv4) instruction sets, and it also includes 128KB of L2 cache. Two of the four models — the ATSAMA5D43 and ATSAMA5D44 — add a 720p hardware video decoder for playback at 30fps using H264, VP8, or MPEG4.

Otherwise, the four models are differentiated by their BGA package and memory support, as follows:

  • ATSAMA5D41 — 16-bit DDR, BGA289
  • ATSAMA5D42 — 16/32-bit DDR, BGA361
  • ATSAMA5D43 — 16-bit DDR, BGA289, 720p video decoder
  • ATSAMA5D44 — 16/32-bit DDR, BGA361, 720p video decoder

All four SAMA5D4 models add security features compared to the SAMA5D3. ARM TrustZone technology protects the system against counterfeiting, and enables secure remote firmware updates. The SAMA5D4 can run authentication software, and provides on-the-fly execution of encrypted code stored in external memory, says Atmel. Other security features include tamper detection with erasure of critical data, plus hardware encryption engines that support private and public key algorithms.

Detailed version of SAMA5D4 block diagram, showing TrustZone security support
(click image to enlarge)

Like the SAMA5D3, the SAMA5D4 supplies an LCD controller with overlays for image composition, and features a CMOS sensor interface. The new SoC similarly provides high-speed USB ports, configurable as either three hosts, or as two hosts and one device port.

The SAMA5D4 implements dual 10/100 Ethernet interfaces in contrast to the earlier SAMA5D3’s combination of a 10/100 plus a 10/100/1000 interface. The D4 also drops the D3’s dual CANbus controller and industrial temperature support features.

Atmel SAMA5D4

Perhaps tellingly, there are no power consumption specs listed for the SAMA5D4, whereas the SAMA5D3 is touted for under 150mW consumption, or under 0.5mW in low-power mode. It’s probably a safe bet, however, that this will draw considerably less power than an SoC based on any other Cortex-A core.

Mainline Linux BSP, with Android coming soon

Atmel supports the SAMA5D4 with a free Linux4SAM distribution, which uses a mainline kernel. A free Android4SAM Android 4.4 (KitKat) port will be available in December. There’s also a free graphics software development kit (SDK) based on Qt5 that includes demos, widgets, background images, icons, and graphical elements. Atmel also offers more than 40 peripheral drivers in C.

Third-party development tools, PMICs, memories, compute modules, and software solutions are also available. Atmel SAMA ecosystem partners include IAR, Timesys, Free Electrons, Active Semi, Micron, ISSI, Segger, FreeRTOS, Express Logic, eForce, and NuttX.

The SAMA5D4 is further supported by a hardware development kit, which includes a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen. This is not, however, one of the Atmel Xplained kits offered for the SAMA5D3. No more details were available on the evaluation kit.

Other Cortex-A5 SoCs include the Freescale Vybrid, and the new Spreadtrum SC6820, which is found in the $33 Firefox OS phones now shipping in India. Qualcomm sells a Cortex-A5-based Snapdragon S4 Play, which fuels devices such as the Android-powered Neptune Pine smartwatch.

“The SAMA5D4 enables the addition of video playback to control panels and displays at an unrivalled cost point,” stated Jacko Wilbrink, sr. director of MPUs at Atmel. “Security and counterfeiting are becoming growing concerns within the rapidly growing IoT market. These applications require MPUs with advanced encryption while maintaining the same level of high performance. Atmel SMART SAMA5D4 is positioned to deliver the security and performance many Internet-connected systems require.”

Further information

Samples for the SAMA5D4 are available now. The SAMA5D43 model, which offers 720p hardware video decoding, goes for $8.95 in 1,000-piece quantities. Xplained evaluation kits are also available now, selling for $695 (order code ATSAMA5D4-EK). More information on the SAMA5D4, including a manual, may be found at the Atmel SAMA product page.

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0 responses to “Atmel revs up Cortex-A5 SoC with video decode, security”

  1. Michael Opdenacker says:

    We precisely have a blog post about mainline Linux kernel support for this new SoC:


  2. John says:

    Reference for dual Gigabit on the SAMA5D4?

    I checked the datasheet, it references GMAC interface, but no documented support for Gigabit Ethernet.

    • LinuxGizmos says:

      Thanks for bring this up! You’ll find a reference to Gigabit Ethernet on the SAMA5D4 on this page of Atmel’s website:

      Specifically, in the “SAMA5D4 series” section it states: “Comprehensive peripheral set for connectivity and user interface applications — Includes Gigabit and 10/100 Ethernet, up to three high-speed USB ports, dual CAN, several SDIO/SD/MMC, UARTs, SPIs, TWIs, soft modem, LCD controller with graphics accelerator, 720p hardware video decoder, camera interface, ADC, 32-bit timers, and more.”

      Then, lower down on that page it states:

      “The SAMA5D4 series operates at 528MHz (840DMIPS). The device features the ARM NEON SIMD engine … The comprehensive set of peripheral and user interface features include … dual 10/1000 Ethernet MAC….” (see: > “Details”)

      But the block diagram beside it for the SAMA5D4 ( shows 2x 10/100 channels, rather than 1x 10/100 interface plus 1x Gigabit interface, and the datasheet, as you’ve noted, does not mention gigabit Ethernet anywhere.

      I’ll check with Atmel support to see where the error lies.

    • LinuxGizmos says:

      We heard back from Atmel’s product manager, and he confirmed that the reference to the SAMA5D4 having a “dual 10/1000 Ethernet MAC” on the Atmel product page was indeed a mistake and should have said “dual 10/100 Ethernet MAC.” They are updating their website based on our feedback. We updated our article just now. Thanks for catching that issue!

  3. Thomas says:

    To evaluate and prototype your application, Atmel provides an evaluation kit, not an Xplained kit.
    Board picture you are showing is the picture of the SAMA5D3 Xplained…… Needs to be corrected I think……

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