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Cortex-A5 SBC offers mainline Linux support

Sep 12, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 3,354 views

Emtrion’s new SBC uses Atmel’s Cortex-A5-based ATSAMA5D36 SoC and offers HDMI, 2x Ethernet, a battery charger, -40 to 85°C operation, and draws less than 300mA.

Germany-based Emtrion has recently focused on Linux projects running on Freescale’s i.MX6 system-on-chip, and has previously spun products including the circa-2008, Renesas SuperH-based HiCO.SH7780 COM. Emtrion’s “SBC-SAMA5D36” single board computer integrates Atmel’s power-stingy, ARM Cortex-A5 based ATSAMA5D3x SoCs, and targets industrial field applications.

(click image to enlarge)

The SBC-SAMA5D36 uses the latest of Atmel’s five SAMA5 models, an ATSAMA5D36 variant that fills in the missing LCD support on the ATSAMA5D35. The other three models (1, 3, and 4) offer LCD, but lack other features available here including gigabit Ethernet and dual CAN support.

Like other ATSAMA5D3x SoCs, the ATSAMA5D36 version has a 536MHz clock rate and 850DMIPS performance. At the same time, it runs on 200mW, which is the typical consumption on the Emtrion board, with the SBC’s maximum running up to only 300mA.

Atmel SAMA5D3 SoC block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The SoC has an embedded FPU, and the LCD TFT controller includes a graphics accelerator for overlay, alpha-blending, rotation, scaling, and color space conversion. Emtrion also makes special note of the SoC’s security features, which include a secure hash algorithm, a true random number generator, encryption engines (AES, TDS) and the Atmel Secure Boot Solution.

Atmel offers its own Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained development board for the SoC family, in collaboration with Newark Element14. Unlike the SBC-SAMA5D36, it offers Arduino compatibility. However, it’s missing a few useful features found on the Emtrion board like an HDMI port and a Lithium battery charger. The SBC-SAMA5D36 also provides a bit more standard flash, as well as increased optional RAM and flash ranging up to 2GB of NAND.

On the SBC-SAMA5D36, the SoC is clocked to 536MHz, and backed up with 256MB to 512MB of DDR2-SDRAM, 512MB to 2GB of SLC NAND flash, and 8MB to 32MB of NOR flash. A microSD socket offers more storage opportunities.

SBC-SAMA5D36 block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The 135 x 74 x 15mm SBC places coastline ports on opposite ends, including two USB 2.0 host ports, a micro-USB 2.0 device port, and as found on the Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained board, both 10/100 and 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports.

An RGB LCD connector together with a choice of resistive or capacitive touch controllers can output WVGA resolution on a 7-inch LCD touchscreen “with no extra external power supply for the display,” notes Emtrion “If the LCD display is too small for the application, the HDMI connection makes it possible to output on a standard PC monitor with no extra software required,” says the company.

More than 40 fully configurable I/Os are available via the board’s expansion connectors. Interfaces include dual CAN ports, RS-232/485, SSI for audio, SPI, I2C, PWM, and 52 GPIOs. The board also offers five analog inputs and a JTAG connector. The serial debug interface is said to be compliant with the FTDI USB to TTL serial cable (3.3V).

The SBC-SAMA5D36 can be powered by either the micro-USB port or via a 5V @ 1A power supply on a barrel connector. The SBC offers an optional extended temperature of -40 to 85°C.

The SBC ships with an open source software package that provides various embedded Linux distributions and a U-Boot bootloader. It can boot up via micro-SD, NAND flash, or NOR flash. You can update the software by copying it to the micro-SD card, or else program the NAND flash using the free Atmel SAM-BA tool and a USB cable. Emtrion provides full software and hardware documentation.

The SBC-SAMA5D36 is available with the latest Debian 8.0 (Jessie) distribution for quick development, or for a more “tailored” embedded Linux project, Yocto Linux and the uClibc based Buildroot, says Emtrion. The board is supported in mainline Linux. Thanks to Atmel’s “active open source development,” everything concerning the Linux kernel and U-Boot is available on the official Linux repository,” says Emtrion.

Emtrion provides the configuration files of the SBC to rebuild any software from the official repository. The SBC-SAMA5D36 “features the latest development in terms of Linux data structure for describing the hardware so that for changing the behavior of a pin there is no need to recompile the Kernel — instead update the Device tree file,” says the company.

Specifications listed for the SBC-SAMA5D36 include:

  • Processor — Atmel SAMA5D36 (1x Cortex-A5 @ 536MHz)
  • Memory/storage:
    • 256MB DDR2 RAM, expandable to 512MB
    • 512MB NAND flash, expandable to 2GB
    • 8MB NOR flash, expandable to 32MB
    • MicroSD slot
  • Display:
    • HDMI (LCD) port
    • RGB (LCD) interface
    • EDT via FFC connector
    • 4-wire resistive or capacitive touch controller
  • Networking — gigabit Ethernet port; Fast Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB host ports
    • Micro-USB (A) device port
    • 2x CAN interfaces
    • 2x MMC/SD interfaces (3x total including microSD)
    • SSI Interface for audio
    • 8x PWM
    • SPI interface
    • 52x GPIO
    • 3x I2C interfaces
    • 5x UART (LVTTL) for RS-232/485
    • 5x analog inputs
    • 20-pin JTAG connector
  • Other features — 2x user buttons, 4x user LEDs; RTC; 4x mounting holes
  • Power:
    • 5V from USB or power jack
    • Under and over voltage protection
    • Lithium battery charger
    • Power consumption @ 5V — typ. 200mA, max. 300mA
  • Dimensions — 135 x 74 x 15mm
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 70°C; optional -40 to 85°C
  • Operating system — Debian 8.0, Yocto, and Buildroot Linux distributions; supported by mainline Linux

Further information

The SBC-SAMA5D36 is available now at an unstated price. More information may be found at the SBC-SAMA5D36 product page.

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