Electronic Design

Cold, Dense, And Gratis MCU Core Targets FPGAs

Did you know that at 5515 kg/m3, Earth is the densest planet in our solar system? Most of that density is made up in the Earth’s core, which became so dense during the early stages of the Earth’s 4.5 billion-year life in a process called planetary differentiation. During this process, and while the Earth was still a ball of molten elements, denser substances such as iron sank toward the center, and the dense core as we know it today was formed.

Not to be outdone by the Earth, Freescale has created a very dense core based on its 32-bit V1 ColdFire microcontroller intellectual property (IP) for use with the popular Altera Cyclone III family of FPGAs. Much like nature, the core is available free of charge to Cyclone III customers through IPextreme’s online Core Store marketplace.

The V1 ColdFire is a cost-effective yet flexible solution for logic designers facing uphill battles with standard embedded processors and system-on-a-chip (SoC) devices. Such a solution might be required when, for example, additional logic, flexible I/O, or additional communication channels are required beyond what a standard MCU or SoC can provide. This is, of course, the traditional argument in favor of combining FPGAs and MCUs. The icing on the core is the inherent flexibility that soft IP provides, which can be developed using Altera’s System on a Programmable Chip (SOPC) Builder tool.

“The marriage of the V1 core and FPGAs gives embedded developers the best of both worlds—being able to add product differentiation without giving up a familiar, proven processor core and the ecosystem that supports that processor core,” said Aiden Mitchell, consumer and industrial product manager for Freescale’s Microcontroller Solutions Group. “Industry-leading software and tools are a critical part of the selection of a 32-bit core for use in an FPGA. With this V1 core licensing arrangement, Freescale’s ColdFire architecture brings more than 15 years of partnerships and software support to the FPGA market.”

The V1 ColdFire core targets entry-level 32-bit applications in consumer and handheld electronics, healthcare instruments and monitoring equipment, factory automation, building monitor and control systems, security and access systems, and office and home automation. It is a scaled-down version of the V2 ColdFire core and has a configurable hierarchical architecture.

The core provides access to all major blocks using the now standard Advanced Microcontroller Bus Architecture Advanced High-performance Bus (AMBA-AHB). The V1 ColdFire is a RISC-based architecture that supports variable-length instructions, from 16 to 48 bits. Thus, your code can be more efficiently packed into memory. The core includes an instruction fetch pipeline, operand execution pipeline, debug, and core bus controller block (see the figure).

The gratis V1 core, along with demonstration boards and reference designs, should be available next quarter through IPextreme. All Cold- Fire cores (V1 through V4) have been designed with compatibility in mind, as they share the same architecture and instruction set. For more information on the ColdFire device, see “Save Cold Cash On ColdFire” at www.electronicdesign.com, ED Online 18082.



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