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Timesys tips LinuxLink support for Renesas RZ/A SoC

Nov 15, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 1,260 views

[Updated Nov 21] — Timesys announced LinuxLink support for the Cortex-A9 based Renesas RZ/A SoC and RSK HDK. Renesas also tipped an RZ/A-based board for ARM Mbed development.

Renesas Electronics announced the RZ/A1, the first of its RZ/A Series “high-end microprocessors,” over a year ago for HMI-driven industrial automation, medical, and consumer electronics applications. Now Timesys has launched a customized LinuxLink embedded Linux support package for the RZ/A, starting with three RZ/A1 models. Renesas also announced an RZ/A1-based development board for ARM’s new Mbed platform for IoT development using Cortex-M microcontroller units (see farther below).

Strictly speaking, Renesas classifies the RZ/A series chips as high-end microprocessors (MPUs), not system-on-chips (SoCs). However, we prefer to think of them as low-end SoCs, in recognition of their high level of integration, which includes a Linux-friendly ARM Cortex-A9 processor, on-chip RAM, and both display and networking functions, among other I/O.

Renesas RZ/A1H with 10MB RAM (left) and RZ/A1L with 3MB
(click image to enlarge)

RZ/A1 background

The single-core, 400MHz RZ/A1 is a far more modest affair than Renesas’s similarly Linux-compatible Renesas R-Car in-vehicle infotainment SoC, which combines four Cortex-A15 and four Cortex-A7 cores in a Big.Little configuration. The RZ/A1 stands out, however, with its unusually large onboard RAM, ranging from 3MB to 10MB depending on the model, as well as its on-chip video I/O. This strategy is said to reduce bill of materials (BoM) cost for RZ/A1-based devices, letting you build circuit boards without RAM or display controllers.

The RZ/A1 is available in RZ/A1H, RZ/A1M, and RZ/A1L models, which ship with 10MB, 5MB, and 3MB of RAM, respectively. The 400MHz, Cortex-A9 processor offers a VDC5 video controller and built-in digital RGB inputs and outputs.

Block diagrams for the RZ/A1 (left) and general RZ/A platform
(click images to enlarge)

The larger RZ/A1H and RZ/A1M models offer dual-channel RGB instead of single-channel, with output that supports both RGB and LVDS. These larger models also add 2D graphics GPUs and display distortion correction functionality, as well as a dual-channel CVBS analog video output. All three models feature SDRAM and dual-channel USB 2.0 high-speed support, and offer an asynchronous, four-channel sampling rate converter.

Like the R-Car, the RZ/A1 Series supports automotive applications in addition to other HMI devices. However, the chip is designed for much simpler “multi-functional automotive displays” rather than full-fledged IVI computers, as well as back camera displays and car audio-only systems. Automotive support includes CAN Bus, MOST 5.0, and LIN interfaces. The chips also support Ethernet, but only the larger two models support Ethernet AVB (audio video bridging).

Renesas Starter Kit

The Linux compatible Renesas Starter Kit development kit is built around a “GENMAI” development board that incorporates the 10MB-RAM RZ/A1H model. Features include an Ethernet port, video I/O, a variety of USB ports, Pmod interfaces, CAN Bus, audio I/O, and much more (see diagram farther below).

RSK development kit for RZ/A1 (left) and close up on the RSK kit’s GENMAI board
(click images to enlarge)

Other RSK for RZ/A1 components are said to include:
  • TFT LCD option board
  • Detachable color LCD board (Pmod compatible)
  • Detachable AD adjustment shaft
  • Segger J-LINK lite debugger
  • Connection cables (USB cable, user interface cable)
  • Multi-region power supply
  • Quick-start guide
  • User manual and tutorial
  • ARM DS-5 IDE and 32K code limited compiler (requires registration with ARM)
  • KPIT GNU compiler for Cortex A9
  • Segger debugger drivers
  • Sample code

GENMAI development board detail (left) and block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

LinuxLink for RZ/A1

Timesys, which recently announced LinuxLink support for AMD’s Gizmo 2 SBC, has long supported Renesas processors, including its earlier Super-H (SH) line of RISC CPUs. The LinuxLink embedded Linux development platform for the RZ/A1 MPU and RSK kit lets users “easily build a custom board support package and matching software development kit,” says Timesys. The support package includes how-to documentation, videos, code snippets, and other resources. LinuxLink accounts range from a simplified free version to full-fledged commercial versions.

RZ/A1 vs. SH conceptual roadmap
(click image to enlarge)

BSP options include support for the RZ/A1’s XIP (eXecute-In-Place) functionality, in which an uncompressed kernel is stored and executed in NOR flash memory, thereby saving time that would otherwise be required to copy code into memory. XIP is said to further optimize BoM costs for RZ/A1-based devices.

The commercial version of LinuxLink includes the company’s Eclipse-based TimeStorm IDE for application development, which is said to automate environment setup and kernel configuration. TimeStorm also integrates open source tools including OProfile, LTTng, and UI development frameworks such as Qt. Other Timesys options include professional services and customized training.

“With its innovative architecture that helps enable cost effective controller and interface applications utilizing XIP, the RZ/A1 is a great choice for a wide range of applications where the bill of materials cost needs to be optimized,” stated Brian Gildon, vice president of business development, Timesys.

ARM mbed IoT Device platform

On Nov, 10, Renesas announced an ARM mbed IoT Device platform incorporating the RZ/A1 SoC. The board is designed to support development on ARM’s recently announced Mbed platform for its Cortex-M microcontrollers. There were few details on the board, which will ship in December.

Renesas ARM mbed IoT Device platform

This “world’s first ARM Cortex-A9 processor-based Mbed microprocessor board” appears to run ARM’s new Mbed OS rather than Linux. The platform will “enable quicker development of high-performance, high-functionality embedded systems for designers of interconnected devices,” says Renesas.

The ARM mbed IoT Device platform board allows developers to reuse software developed for the Cortex-M, while “gaining enhanced performance and features,” says the company. The RZ/A1 SoC is said to support the CMSIS (Cortex Microcontroller Software Interface Standard), allowing developers to port multi-threaded Cortex-M family software to the Cortex-A9 core without major modifications.

Mbed includes the free Mbed OS, as well as an Mbed Device Server stack for cloud-based management of Internet of Things devices based on Cortex-M MCUs. Mbed OS lacks real-time, deterministic features, so it can’t compete with RTOSes on projects with real-time requirements. However, according to ARM, Mbed OS is better suited for the much faster growing number of MCU-based devices that perform IoT duties such as transmitting sensor data.

Further information

More information on the now available LinuxLink for RZ/A Series may be found at the Timesys LinuxLink for RZ/A1 product page. More on the RZ/A1 and associated RSK platform may be found on this Renesas RZ product family page.

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