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Cortex-A9/FPGA combo SoC gains open source Linux platform

Oct 27, 2011 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 37 views

Xilinx launched an open source Linux platform and developer community for its Zynq-7000 Extensible Processing Platform (EPP), which combines a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor and a 28nm FPGA. The Zynq-7000 EPP Linux Solution offers GNU toolchain, runtime libraries, and debuggers, plus options including a Virtual Platform hardware emulator based on Cadence VSP.

The Zynq-7000 EPP Linux development platform is equipped with a GNU toolchain, including C/C++ compilers, says long-time FPGA (field programmable gate array ) leader Xilinx. Also available are NEON optimized runtime libraries, debuggers, and a QEMU system model for emulation, says the company.

An Eclipse environment-based tool suite is included, as well as an optional Xilinx ISE Design Suite for embedded hardware design on the FPGA. A new developer website and community, meanwhile, offers a GIT Linux source distribution, a Wiki, and forums.

Xilinx has also expanded its Linux support for the Zynq-7000 EPP system on chip (SoC), which was previously available only in a limited early access program launched in April, a month after the SoC was announced (see farther below for more details).

New tools are said to include the optional ARM Development Studio 5 (DS-5) toolchain. The latest version of DS-5 adds "seamless" multicore debug and trace on Cortex-A9 processors, as well as system-wide performance analysis of Linux software stacks, says the company.

According to Xilinx, more than 60 percent of its Zynq-7000 EPP early access customers expressed interest in using Linux as their primary OS. Of those, 80 percent said they were planning to use an open source Linux distribution.

Cadence Xilinx EPP Emulation

A Cadence-designed Xilinx EPP Emulation platform, previously available to some selected early access developers, is now offered more widely via a newly launched Virtual Platform Early Access program, says Xilinx. This will open to a broader customer base by the end of this year, says the company.

The emulator provides a complete hardware model of the Zynq-7000 EPP, including the ARM MPCore processor system and programmable logic resources, says Xilinx. Xilinx EPP Emulation is said to be based on Cadence Virtual System Platform (VSP), part of the Cadence System Development Suite.

The virtual platform provides a functionally accurate model of the Zynq-7000 EPP processor system, its peripherals, memory and I/O, capable of booting Linux and other operating systems, says Xilinx. Developers can extend the virtual platform using transaction-level models (TLM) to support custom devices that will "ultimately be instantiated within the Zynq-7000 device's programmable logic," says Xilinx.

PetaLogix SDK Zynq Edition

In addition to the Xilinx open source toolsuite for the Zynq-7000, as well as the ARM DS-5 for Zynq-7000 and the Cadence Xilinx EPP Emulation platform, Xilinx is making available a commercially-supported Linux distribution from Xilinx Alliance Program member PetaLogix. This System Development Kit (SDK) Zynq Edition supports all phases of embedded design flow, and integrates with the Xilinx Embedded Development Kit for hardware design entry and implementation, says Xilinx.

Based on the PetaLinux distro, the SDK Zynq Edition is said to include a Linux kernel, standard libraries and applications, a system image builder, and custom application and device driver templates. Also provided is a QEMU-based dynamic virtual Zynq platform for prototyping.

Zynq-7000 EPP background

The Zynq-7000 EPP line of SoCs was announced in early March, targeting high-end markets such as video surveillance, automotive driver assistance, and factory automation, among others. Xilinx first announced its plans for EPP architecture SoCs in May 2010, following an initial partnership agreement with ARM in Oct. 2009. The processor is one of the first tight integrations of ARM Cortex and FPGA technology, a segment dominated by Xilinx.

Zynq-7000 block diagram

(Click to enlarge)

PowerPC-based processors have been used in FPGA products such as the company's Virtex-II Pro, Virtex-4 FX, and Virtex-5 FXT, along with IBM's Core Connect bus. However, the Zynq-7000 is the first FPGA/application processor hybrid that boots at power-up and can run a variety of operating systems independent of the programmable logic, says Xilinx. The processing system then configures the programmable logic on an as needed basis.

The Zynq-7000 SoCs incorporate dual-core Cortex-A9 cores with 32KB/32KB L1 and 512KB L2 caches, plus 256KB memory on-chip. A variety of memory controllers including DDR3 and NAND flash are also provided.

The Zynq-7000 family's programmable logic is based on Xilinx's latest "7 series" FPGA architecture [PDF]. The FPGA technology offers "massive parallel processing to handle large amounts of data across a wide range of signal processing applications," says Xilinx.

Devices in the Zynq-7000 family include the Zynq-7010 and Zynq-7020 — each based on Xilinx' Artix-7 FPGA family, which is optimized for low-cost and low power, says the company. The larger Zynq-7030 and Zynq-7040 SoCs incorporate the more powerful Kintex-7 FPGAs and include between four and 12 10.3Gbps transceiver channels, plus a PCI Express Gen2 block for high-speed off-chip connectivity.

A high-bandwidth AMBA4 "Advanced Extensible Interface" (AXI4) interconnect between the processing system and the programmable logic, enables multi-gigabit data transfers at very low power, says Xilinx. (For more details, charts, and a spec list, see our previous Zynq-7000 coverage.)

Stated Lawrence Getman, vice president of Processing Platforms at Xilinx, "The Cadence/Xilinx solution takes embedded software development to a whole new level by mapping it to the Zynq-7000 family's unique extensibility without the need for any hardware other than the designers' workstation."

Stated John Williams, PetaLogix Founder and CEO, "PetaLinux SDK is the only Embedded Linux distribution specifically targeting FPGA-based system-on-chip designs. The company is focused exclusively on Xilinx FPGA-based Embedded Linux platforms."


The open source Zynq-7000 EPP Linux Solution is available now, with more information available at the new Zynq-7000 community site. The extensible Virtual Platform Early Access program has begun and will open to a broader customer base by the end of this year, and to general availability in Q1 2012. More information may be found on the Xilinx Virtual Platform page, as well as at this Cadence Zynq page.

First silicon devices based on the Xilinx Zynq-7000 family are scheduled for the second half of 2011, with general engineering samples available in the first half of 2012. ARM TechCon attendees can see a demonstration of the Zynq-7000 EPP and the extensible virtual platform through Oct. 27 at Xilinx booth #207.

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