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Real-time enabled Sitara SoC shows up on a COM

Jan 27, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 1,107 views

Variscite unveiled a Linux-friendly, SODIMM-style COM based on TI’s Sitara AM437x, supporting the updated SoC’s quad-core Programmable Real-time Unit (PRU).

The VAR-SOM-AM43 is the first computer-on-module we’ve seen to use the Texas Instruments Sitara AM437x, a single-core Cortex-A9 system-on-chip that clocks to 1GHz. Last month, Adeneo announced an Android 4.4 BSP for TI’s Sitara AM437x development platform. Variscite is supporting its VAR-SOM-AM43 with a Yocto Linux, and soon, Android-ready hardware/software development kit of its own, which includes a VAR-AM43 CustomBoard development board, touchscreens, cables, and more (see farther below).

VAR-SOM-AM43, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

Like the popular, Cortex-A8-based Sitara AM335x, which formed the basis for Variscite’s VAR-SOM-AM33 module, the AM437 principally targets industrial applications and features TI’s Programmable Real-time Unit (PRU). Whereas the earlier PRU comprised dual, 200MHz, 32-bit RISC microcontrollers, the AM437x’s version offers a quad-core PRU.

Sitara AM437x block diagram showing quad-core PRU
(click image to enlarge)

In either case, the PRU, which is now supported by TI with a Linux-based BeagleBone Black evaluation cape, is designed for customizing I/O that requires deterministic, real-time processing and ultra-low-latency. The updated PRU offers extended support for dedicated industrial protocols such as EtherCAT, Profibus, and EnDat.

The VAR-SOM-AM43 is best suited for automation, robotics, controllers, HMI, and other industrial applications, says Variscite. The module support all four pin-to-pin compatible AM437x variations: the Sitara AM4376, AM4377, AM4378, and AM4379. All the SoC models offer single 800MHz or 1GHz Cortex-A9 cores and PRU-ICSS subsystems. The high-end AM44379 adds PowerVR 3D graphics acceleration, as well as PRU support for the EtherCAT slave protocol. The AM4378 shares the PowerVR GPU, but not the EtherCAT, while the AM4377 is the reverse, offering EtherCAT, but no 3D. The AM4376 has neither feature.

VAR-SOM-AM43 block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The SODIMM-style VAR-SOM-AM43 COM is very similar to the earlier VAR-SOM-AM33 module. However, I/O signals have been boosted in most categories. You can load up to 1GB of DDR3 RAM on the COM as well as integrate up to 512MB of SLC NAND flash and up to 32GB of eMMC flash.

Once again, both RGB and resistive touch-enabled LCD interfaces are available, and you get WiFi and BLE 4.0 wireless radios. Instead of supporting 10/100 and 10/100/1000 interfaces, the controller supports dual gigabit Ethernet connection. Other interfaces expressed via the 204-pin SODIMM interface include dual USB ports, dual CAN ports, and various other serial and industrial interfaces. A Parallel camera interface has also been added.

Specifications listed for the VAR-SOM-AM43 include:

  • Processor — TI AM437x (1x Cortex-A9 core @ up to 1GHz); PowerVR SGX530 2D/3D accelerator (AM4378 or AM4379 only); quad-core PRU subsystem @ 200MHz
  • Memory:
    • 256MB to 1GB DDR3 RAM
    • 128MB to 1GB SLC NAND flash
    • 4GB to 32GB eMMC flash
  • Display — 24-bit LCD interface with 4/5-wire resistive touch; RGB up to 1400 x 1050 (24-bit)
  • Wireless — 802.11a/b/g/n with MIMO; Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Networking — 2x 10/100/1000 Ethernet controllers
  • Other I/O (via SODIMM connectors):
    • USB 2.0 host
    • USB 2.0 OTG
    • Audio mic in; line in/out
    • 3x SD/MMC
    • CPI Parallel camera interface
    • Parallel camera interface
    • 5x UARTs (up to 3.6Mbps)
    • 2x CAN bus
    • 4x SPI
    • 3x I2C
    • S/PDIF
    • 1-Wire/HDQ
    • eCAP, ADCs
  • Other features — RTC
  • Power — 3.3V supply
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 70°C, -20 to 70°C, or -40 to 85°C
  • Dimensions — 67.8 x 38.6 x 3mm
  • Operating system — Linux (Yocto); Android coming soon

VAR-DVK-AM43 development kit with VAR-AM43 CustomBoard
(click image to enlarge)

The VAR-SOM-AM43 is available in commercial, extended, and industrial temperature versions. A Yocto-based Linux distribution is ready now, and Android is said to be coming soon. A VAR-AM43 CustomBoard development board is available either alone or as part of a VAR-DVK-AM43 development kit that adds the VAR-SOM-AM43 module and a 7-inch WVGA resistive- or capacitive touchscreen. The kit also includes a power supply, Ethernet and debug cables, a rescue SD, and documentation.

VAR-AM43 CustomBoard, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

The VAR-AM43 CustomBoard features an LVDS interface with resistive and capacitive touch panels, You also get dual gigabit Ethernet ports, a USB host port, a mini-USB OTG port, a micro-USB debug port, 3.5mm audio, a microSD slot, dual CAN ports, and various headers and connectors. The 11.1 x 8.6 x 2.4cm board runs on 5V DC input.

VAR-AM43 CustomBoard block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

Further information

The VAR-SOM-AM43 and its related development kits are available now. Pricing starts at $42 for 1Ku. More information may be found at the VAR-SOM-AM43 product page, as well as at the VAR-AM43 CustomBoard page.

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