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Grasp the foundation of efficient SoC design

Posted: 20 Sep 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ARM cores  SoC  PSoC  direct memory access  PHUB 

In past decades, we have seen electronic devices become smaller and lighter, yet packed with more functionality. For example, the first Apple iPod, unveiled in 2001, weighed 6.5 oz and had a capacity of 1000 songs. In contrast, the latest iPod shuffle weighs but 1.1 oz and allows users to hold 4,000 songs in their pockets. This growth is not without its cost. Embedded systems developers face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to rapidly deliver competitive products. Many are turning to system-on-chip (SoC) technology to improve time-to-market, cost, performance, design reuse, and operating longevity of their products.

With ARM cores growing in popularity, a single Cortex core no longer offers sufficient competitive advantage in itself. The primary factors influencing a designer's SoC choice are the features and interconnect system of peripherals. Thus, vendors need to consider the design of peripherals and their interconnecting system in order to differentiate their products.

An SoC is often composed of multiple systems, including digital, analogue, CPU, and programmable routing and interconnect sub-systems. To secure system function coherence and thereby maximise design efficiency, vendors have been putting significant emphasis into their peripheral hub designs to increase bandwidth, reduce latency, and offload processor overhead.

For example, Atmel's bus matrix implements a multi-layer advanced high-performance bus (AHB) that enables parallel access paths between multiple AHB masters and slaves. Texas Instruments (TI) has its advanced high-performance bus (AHB) and advanced peripheral bus (SPB) along with uDMA to connect between system peripherals, serial peripherals, and analogue peripherals.

Cypress utilises a peripheral hub (PHUB) responsible for data transfer between the CPU and peripherals, as well as transfers between peripherals (figure 1). Most of the resulting architectures also make use of various forms of a direct memory access (DMA) controller to allow more efficient use of the processor and available bus bandwidth. We will discuss peripheral hub implementations in SoC designs and explore key performance factors.

Figure 1: PSoC 5LP peripheral hub system architecture.

Peripheral access flexibility
Peripheral hubs are used to connect the CPU to memory and peripherals. In order to increase bandwidth, different vendors choose different connection methods. Atmel's SAM3N series, for example, uses a multi-layer AHB that enables parallel access paths between multiple masters and slaves. Atmel's Bus Matrix can support up to 3 masters and 4 slaves, and each master and slave is assigned dedicated accesses. For example, Slave 0 can access internal SRAM, Slave 1 is dedicated to internal ROM, etc.

Cypress's PSoC 5LP series makes use of spoke arbitration in place of dedicated access (table). Spoke arbitration offloads demand from the CPU and DMAC, and then each of the 8 spokes is connected to one or more peripheral blocks. For example, Spoke 0 connects to SRAM, Spoke 1 handles I/O interface and the port interrupt control unit.

Table: Spoke configuration in PSoC 5LP.

These different implementations help designers maximise peripheral flexibility and scalability. First, peripherals can have a data width wider than their spoke. A Delta-Sigma ADC, for example, can support up to 20bit data although it is placed in a 16bit spoke using an internal FIFO. One peripheral can extend across multiple spokes. Peripherals of different data widths can also be connected to a single spoke.

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