7 reasons why fast, low-cost access to a Linux-capable, Arm CPU is great news

Did you know that 82% of developers are considering Linux or Android in their next embedded development?* And that 70% of rich embedded devices are based on Arm?**

That means, by offering easy, low-cost access to Linux-capable, Arm CPUs, developers can unlock the world of Linux software. This saves companies considerable time and costs by using operating systems, middleware and applications that are proven and already ready to run on Arm.

With this in mind, Arm is further expanding our DesignStart program to help drive innovation, bringing Arm-based Linux development within reach. 

Developers can now get fast, low-cost access to the Arm Cortex-A5 processor for a small access fee of $75k, including one year of support. Cortex-A5 is an advanced, highly capable application processor with the lowest power of any Arm Cortex-A CPU. Now with simple access to the proven, advanced, Linux-capable CPU, along with a comprehensive package of system IP, designers can more easily create rich embedded and IoT systems-on-chip (SoCs).

Extending DesignStart across the embedded spectrum

For the last decade, the DesignStart program has offered a quick and easy way to access Cortex-M processors for the development of custom SoCs. The program has enabled hundreds of companies to develop application-optimized designs and recently we added the Arm Cortex-M1 and Cortex-M3 soft IP to DesignStart for development on Xilinx FPGAs. Continuing the momentum, today we’re excited to widen this offering, expanding the possibilities in the rich-featured embedded design space.

DesignStart Cortex-A5 embedded applications

There are a huge range of IoT applications and devices, but many can be categorized into the following three classes:

  1. Constrained devices are often battery powered and processing will be very simple. Examples include smart meters, smart lighting and simple environmental sensors.
  2. Mainstream devices have a balance of cost and performance and are typically Cortex-M based. Example applications include smart homes, asset monitoring and basic wearables.
  3. Rich embedded and IoT have a high level of processing and include a rich operating system, such as Linux. Example applications might include smart homes, gateways, and smart IP cameras. These devices may also support complex decision making and machine learning.

To date, DesignStart has enabled constrained and mainstream applications with fast access to the Cortex-M0 and Cortex-M3. Now, with the addition of Cortex-A5 to DesignStart, we are enabling more innovation for the rich embedded applications.

Cortex-A5: Proven and widely deployed

Cortex-A5 is a proven and widely deployed CPU that has been shipped in over two billion devices. Let's explore the CPU's key features:

1. Enabling rich-featured designs

Cortex-A5 is a highly capable CPU that is ideal for innovation in advanced and cost-sensitive applications. The CPU offers high performance for embedded markets, but yet it has a very small footprint of 0.28mmon 40nm and a low silicon fabrication cost.

The processor is almost twice as efficient as the Cortex-A9 - yet it has the same feature set and 70% of the performance. It is also very efficient at 10mW/100MHz on the established 40nm process node!

When it comes to additional features, the Cortex-A5 offers many options - it is highly configurable, including a fully coherent quad-core design. It has a Floating Point Unit (FPU), security with TrustZone and a high-performance accelerator port for fast connection to machine learning or other custom processors.

Cortex-A5 dual core

2. Enhancing DSP and multimedia processing with Arm NEON

One of the processor's key features is advanced SIMD data processing with NEON, which offers enhanced signal and multimedia processing. The SIMD engine makes it possible to significantly boost performance. In fact, a YUV colour conversion has a 50% performance increase using Cortex-A5 with NEON, compared to a standard integer processor.

NEON is used widely across the industry – from image processing to voice control. And, it is easy to use too – there are hundreds of open source and proprietary libraries and middleware built for or optimized for NEON. One of the most popular signal processing development tools, MATLAB, even outputs NEON code. This code has been optimized for Arm to use directly on Cortex-A processors.

3. Making it easier to develop machine learning at the edge

Cortex-A5 can also be used for machine learning (ML) applications. Arm provides a vast range of software to make ML on Arm easy and efficient. As part of Project Trillium, we have open-sourced Arm NN, an inference engine which allows developers to create their ML application using their favorite framework and then map this to any Arm IP or CPU - or indeed any third-party IP.

We then have the Arm Compute Library - providing deeply optimized functions that get the very best out of the Arm hardware.

4. Speeding up SoC development

The Cortex-A5 DesignStart package also includes a comprehensive set of system IP that makes it much simpler to create Cortex-A5 systems. The proven SoC foundation includes a set of flexible system IP for area and power-optimized SoC development.

Included in the system IP package is Arm CoreLink NIC-400 that provides configurable and low-power connectivity with design flexibility. It also includes the industry-standard CoreSight debug and trace solution for seamless debugging.

Cortex-A5 also comes with TrustZone - a system-wide security solution. TrustZone technology provides hardware-enforced isolation to establish a secure root of trust and has been proven in billions of Cortex-A based devices to date.

Cortex-A5 CPU System IP

5. Reducing software development cost

Linux is extremely important for embedded applications. As mentioned above, 82% of developers are considering Linux for their next embedded development*.

The Cortex-A5 unlocks the world of Linux software for developers with its comprehensive set of software stacks and the breadth of ready-to-run middleware and applications that are needed for rich embedded designs.

Arm and Linaro combined are in the top three contributors to the Linux kernel, and by choosing Arm, developers will save money and man-years of time on software development alone.

Arm Cortex-A5 Linux

6. Choice and flexibility by using the Arm ecosystem

Developers can design confidently on Arm with access to the largest technology ecosystem, offering a wealth of resources and a strong foundation on which to scale their products. The Cortex-A5 ecosystem contains hundreds of tools, RTOS and open-source, and propriety rich operating systems that run on Arm.

7. Accelerating time to market

The Cortex-A5 has been manufactured across all major foundries and process nodes, from 180nm to 7nm. The experience foundries have of Arm CPUs and Cortex-A5 means that it is much simpler for an ASIC designer to successfully tape out their project, saving companies many months of time and effort.

You can access our optimized Arm Artisan physical IP portfolio through DesignStart Physical IP.

Getting started: Fast access to the world’s leading IP

Accessing the Cortex-A5 through DesignStart is straightforward. First, you need to create an Arm account by registering for access. Following your registration, a member of the DesignStart team will be in touch.

We've significantly reduced the Cortex-A5 license fee to a small $75k access fee to the IP, which includes a year of global support from Arm engineers to assist at each stage of your SoC development. For longer projects we offer an alternative $150k access fee that includes three years' of support.

Following approval of your application, you can get started on your Cortex-A5 based design. Our team of highly-experienced engineers are available globally, so wherever you are in the world, we are here to help with your SoC development.

Once you are at the tape-out and manufacturing stage, there is a $50k tape out fee and a small royalty above 1,000 units.

Cortex-A5 DesignStart purchase and cost

Lowest cost, fastest time to market for Linux-based ASICs and software

By adding Cortex-A5 to the DesignStart program, developers now have fast, low-cost access to a high-performance, ultra-efficient CPU that is ideal for a wide range of embedded and IoT applications. And it isn't just about the CPU - the support, system IP and peripherals provided, combined with the incredible cost savings that a developer will get from all of the Linux software, middleware and applications that simply just work on Arm, will save organizations time and money when developing SoCs for rich IoT and embedded applications.

Get started with Cortex-A5 DesignStart today

*2017 EETimes Embedded Markets Study and Arm
**VDC 2016 (CPU & SoC unit volume in embedded, excluding mobile, tablets, and networking)