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Sub-$100 Cortex-A5 dev board accepts Arduino shields

Jan 23, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 1,794 views

Atmel and Newark Element 14 have launched a Linux based, Arduino shield-expandable “Xplained” development board for Atmel’s Cortex-A5 based SAMA5D4 SoC.

The SAMA5D4 Xplained Ultra (SAMA5D4-XULT) follows the SAMA5D3-based SAMA5D3 Xplained, which was developed by Newark Element 14 and Atmel to support the SAMA5D3 system-on-chip. In this case, the Xplained board amplifies the capabilities of the SAMA5D4 SoC announced by Atmel last October. Newark Element14 is the U.S. distributor of U.K.-based Premier Farnell.

Two views of the SAMA5D4-XULT
(click images to enlarge)

The SAMA5D4 supports Internet of Things applications including control panels, communication gateways, and imaging terminals, says Atmel. Like the SAMA5D3, the SAMA5D4 runs on a single Cortex-A5 core, but it adds NEON, L2 cache, and security features. In the case of two of the four SAMA5D4 models, which are differentiated by their BGA package and memory support (16- or 32-bit), the SoC also supports 720p video.

SAMA5D4 block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The 528MHz SAMA5D4 adds ARM TrustZone technology to protect against counterfeiting, and enables secure remote firmware updates. The SoC also runs authentication software, and provides on-the-fly execution of encrypted code stored in external memory. Other security features include tamper detection with erasure of critical data, plus hardware encryption engines that support private and public key algorithms. All SAMA5D4 security features are said to be supported on the new Xplained board.

The SAMA5D4-XULT ships with 512MB and 512MB of NAND flash, which in both cases is twice the amount available with the SAMA5D3 Xplained board. You also get an SD/MMC slot and a microSD slot, HDMI and 24-bit LCD connections, and a 10/100 Ethernet port. (Unlike the SAMA5D3, the SAMA5D4 offers no support for gigabit Ethernet.)

SAMA5D4-XULT detail view
(click image to enlarge)

As with the previous Xplained board, you get dual two USB host ports and one microUSB device port. There are multiple debug interfaces, as well as seven headers with Arduino R3-compatible (Uno, Due) PIO signals. Two Xplained headers are also available for shield connections. Regarding Arduino shield interface compatibility, the board’s detailed user guide [PDF] says its R3-compatible expansion connectors “physical and electrical implementation match the Arduino R3 extension (‘shields’) scheme.”

The SAMA5D4-XULTships with “a Linux distribution and software package.” No more details were provided. However, in October, Atmel said that the SAMA5D4 SoC would be supported with a free Linux4SAM distribution, which uses a mainline kernel. A free Android4SAM Android 4.4 (KitKat) port should also be available by now. 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.

In October, Atmel mentioned the SAMA5D4 would be supported with a hardware development kit, which includes a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen. However, this was not listed as an Xplained board, and no more details were provided. No touchscreen option was mentioned for the SAMA5D4-XULT Xplained board.

Specifications listed for the Atmel SAMA5D4 Xplained Ultra SBC and kit include:

  • Processor — Atmel SAMA5D4 (1x Cortex-A5 @ 528MHz); NEON; 128KB of L2 cache
  • Memory/storage:
    • 512MB DDR2 RAM
    • 512MB SLC NAND flash
    • Optional serial EEPROM SPI and/or 1-wire EEPROM
    • SD/MMC slot (4-bit)
    • MicroSD slot (4-bit)
  • Display — HDMI port (720p); 24-bit LCD interface (LCD TFT controller)
  • Networking — Fast Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB host ports
    • Micro-USB (AB) device port
    • Serial DBGU interface (3V3-level)
    • JTAG connector
    • EDBG interface
    • SPI interface
    • 7x headers compatible with Arduino R3-compatible PIO signals
    • 2x Xplained headers
  • Other features — reset and startup buttons, general-purpose user button, 2x LEDs
  • Power:
    • 5V from USB, power jack, or Arduino shield
    • PMIC
    • Battery socket
  • Dimensions — 138 x 88 x20mm
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 70°C
  • Operating system — Linux

Further information

The SAMA5D4 Xplained Ultra is available for $93.50 from Newark Element14 in North America. More information may be found in this Element14 Community SAMA5D4 Xplained Ultra product page and the Newark Element14 SAMA5D4 shopping page.

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