Electronic Design

Advanced Microprocessor Bus Architecture (AMBA) Bus System

Silicon densities, both for ASICs and FPGAs, can now support true systems-on-a-chip (SoCs). This level of design requires busing systems to connect various components, including 1 or more microprocessors, memory, peripherals, and special logic. AMBA, the Advanced Microprocessor Bus Architecture, is ARM's on-chip busing solution. Initially designed to support the ARM processor cores, AMBA is now licensed and deployed for use with other RISC cores. It's one of the leading on-chip busing systems. Competitors of AMBA include IBM's CoreConnect (www.chips.ibm.com) and Silicore's Wishbone (www.silicore.net) bus systems.

See associated figure.

A Multilevel System
AMBA defines a multilevel busing system, with a system bus and a lower-level peripheral bus. These include two system buses: the AMBA High-Speed Bus (AHB) or the Advanced System Bus (ASB), and the Advanced Peripheral Bus (APB). Designed for custom silicon, these provide standard bus protocols for connecting on-chip IP, custom logic, and specialized functions. These bus protocols are independent of the ARM processor and generalized for SoC application.

The system buses support 32-, 64-, and 128-bit data-bus im-plementations with a 32-bit address bus, as well as smaller byte and half-word designs. These are synchronous, nonmultiplexed buses that support bursting and pipelining, and in the more advanced version, a simple split transaction. The ASB is used for simpler, more cost-effective designs, whereas more sophisticated designs call for the employment of the AHB. Presently, ARM is working to en-hance the AHB for more-effective MP operation.

The AMBA bus system defines a bus hierarchy of a system bus and a peripheral bus. The two buses are linked via a bridge that serves as the master to the peripheral bus slave de-vices. The system bus can be 1 of 2 defined buses: the newer AHB, the Advanced High-Speed Bus, or else the earlier ASB, the Advanced System Bus. The peripheral bus, called APB for the Advanced Peripheral Bus, is a simpler, lower-speed, low-power bus for slower devices.

In a typical configuration, the SoC processor(s), memory controllers, on-chip memory, and DMA controllers hang off of the system bus. It handles the high-speed bus interconnections on the chip. The slower peripherals are hung off of the slower, simpler APB peripheral bus. These also include special logic functions and connections to the SoC basic logic.

The SoC's system and peripheral buses can run at different clock rates. They link via a bridge that buffers data and operations between the two buses. The system buses are different in that AHB isn't a superset of ASB, nor does it build on the same control signals. But the buses do have a lot in common. They're multimaster, they use a central arbiter, each transfer has an address and control cycle, and they're both pipelined (able to start the next transfer's arbitration and address phase while finishing the current transfer).

See associated figure.

Advanced High-Speed Bus
The AHB takes on many characteristics of a standard plug-in bus. It's a multimaster with arbitration, putting the address on the bus, followed by the data. It also supports wait-state insertion and has a data-valid signal (HREADY). This bus differs in that it has separate read (HRDATA) and write (HWDATA) buses. These bus connections are multiplexed, rather than making use of a tristate multiple connection.

AHB supports bursts, with 4-, 8-, and 16-beat bursts, as well as undefined-length bursts and single transfers. Bursts can be address wrapped, i.e., staying within a fixed address range. Bursts can't cross a 1-kB address boundary, though. Slaves can insert wait states to adjust its response (up to 16).

All bus operations are initiated by bus masters, which also can serve as a slave. The master-generated address is decoded by a central address decoder that provides a select signal to the addressed bus slave unit. The bus master can "lock" the bus, reserving it with the central arbiter for a series of locked transfers.

The slave unit has the option to terminate a transaction as an error, signal the master to retry, or split the transaction for later completion. Split transactions enable the slave to defer the operation until it's able to accomplish it, thereby releasing the bus for other accesses. The slave signals a split transaction and saves the master number (HMASTER\\[\\]). When ready to complete the transaction, the slave signals the arbiter with the master number. When the arbiter grants bus access to the master, it restarts the transaction. No master can have more then 1 pending split transaction.

See associated figure.


Advanced System Bus
Like the AHB, the ASB is a pipelined, multimaster bus that supports bursting. It's a simpler bus and doesn't support split transactions. Like AHB, it enables a master to "lock" the bus, i.e., reserve the next bus access for itself. Bus transfer types include Address-Only, Nonsequential, and Sequential. Address-Only (no data) is used for idle cycles, bus master hand-over cycles, and speculative address decoding. Nonsequential is implemented for a single transfer or the first transfer of a burst. Sequential is employed for the successive burst transfers.

For every bus data transfer, the slave must respond, telling the master to continue (WAIT), that the transfer is done (DONE), that the transfer has resulted in an error condition (ERROR), that the slave can't accept any more transfers (LAST), or that the transfer should be retried (RETRACT). The WAIT, DONE, ERROR, LAST, and RETRACT signals are generated on the next cycle by the slave bus unit.

ASB is a nonmultiplexed bus with a single data bus (BD\\[\\]). The BWRITE signal indicates the transfer direction (read or write), and BSIZE\\[\\] specifies the transfer size (width). The slaves don't have to check the bus addresses to see if they're being addressed. Instead, the bus address is used to generate a select signal (DSELx) to select the addressed slave bus unit.

See associated figure.

Advanced Peripheral Bus
Designed to support low-speed peripherals such as UARTs, keypads, and PIO, the APB is a simple peripheral bus. All bus devices are slaves to the master, the bridge to the AHB, or ASB system bus. This is a static bus that provides a simple address, with latched address and control signals for easy interfacing. ARM recommends a dual Read and Write bus implementation, but APB can be implemented with a single tristated data bus.

As a simple bus, the APB doesn't support bursting. Each transaction consists of 2 cycles: an address cycle (Setup state) and a data cycle (Enable state). The bus uses a single clock, PCLK. In Setup, the bus brings PSEL and PWRITE up, putting the address on the PADDR address bus. In the Enable state, it brings PENABLE up and places data on the PWDATA/PRDATA bus. The enable signal, PENABLE, is deasserted on the next clock.

See associated figure.


  • 2nd-generation AMBA system bus
  • Synchronous, nonmultiplexed bus
  • Separate read, data buses
  • Multimaster, arbitrated bus
  • 32-, 64-, 128-, 256-bit data paths
  • 32-bit address bus
  • Pipelined, split transactions
  • Supports bursts (4-, 8-, 16-beat)
  • Non-tristate, multiplexer implementation


  • 1st-generation AMBA system bus
  • Synchronous, nonmultiplexed bus
  • Multimaster, arbitrated bus
  • 32-bit data bus (can be byte, if word)
  • 32-bit address bus
  • Pipelined transactions
  • Supports bursts (4-, 8-, 16-beat)


  • Peripheral bus for low-speed devices
  • Bridged to system bus (ASB, AHB)
  • Synchronous, nonmultiplexed bus
  • Single master (bridge)
  • 8-, 16-, 32-bit data bus
  • 32-bit address bus
  • Nonpipelined
  • 2-cycle transfer, no bursts
  • Static, zero power when not in use


TAGS: Digital ICs
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