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Freescale unveils first ARM-based QorIQ SoCs

Oct 18, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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Freescale Semiconductor announced a new line of Linux-ready, embedded-focused QorIQ system-on-chips based on a new ARM-compatible, core-agnostic Layerscape architecture. The first three QorIQ LS1 SoCs offer dual ARM Cortex-A7 cores clocked at up to 1GHz, and include networking-, display-, and cost-optimized models featuring 2-3 Watts power consumption.

Freescale announced plans to offer ARM versions of its traditionally PowerPC-based QorIQ SoCs back in 2012. Now, it is providing new details on the first round — the QorIQ LS1 — which will begin sampling in the first quarter of 2014. The shift is part of general trend away from PowerPC and toward ARM-based networking processors. New ARM networking and server SoCs include AppliedMicro’s X Gene, Cavium’s Project Thunder, and Broadcom’s newly announced, but still unnamed ARM platform. While all these are high-end, 64-bit ARMv8 SoCs, the QorIQ LS1 settles for the modest, 32-bit Cortex-A7 platform, and is designed for lower-end gateways and network edge equipment, such as Internet of Things (IoT) gateways.

It’s unclear whether the SoCs share the same 28nm fabrication as the latest PowerPC-based QorIQ SoCs such as the 12-core, 1.8GHz QorIQ T4240. Freescale says it hasn’t given up on PowerPC, and the “core-agnostic” Layerscape architecture that debuts in the ARM-based QorIQ LS1 will also be applied to future PowerPC-based QorIQ LSx SoCs.

There’s some overlap with Freescale’s existing line of ARM-based i.MX SoCs, such as the i.MX6, which is sometimes used in industrial and networking applications. Yet, the i.MX SoCs offer greater multimedia functionality, and are more typically aimed at consumer electronics and mobile devices rather than the QorIQ LS1′s sweet spot: fanless, embedded devices found in factories and networking centers.
 

Layerscape connects to QorIQs

The Layerscape architecture is billed by Freescale as “the industry’s first software-aware, core-agnostic networking architecture to offer unprecedented efficiency and scale.” Designed to enable next-generation networks with up to 100Gb/s performance and enhanced packet processing, Layerscape offers a standard, open programming model, as well as a “software-aware” architecture that enables adaptable real-time “soft” control over the network. On a practical level, the technology offers a compatibility layer among LS1 processors, offering shared ISA, as well as virtualization and cache coherency, among various QorIQ LS1 devices.



Freescale’s core-agnostic QorIQ Layerscape architecture
(click image to enlarge)

As shown in the diagram above, Layerscape links CPUs, caches, and memories via a coherent interconnect in a processing layer that sits atop an Accelerated Packet Processing Layer (APPL) featuring co-processors for security, load balancing, pattern matching, and other networking tasks. This sits atop an Express Packet I/O Layer (EPIL) that supports up to 100GbE Ethernet, RapidIO, SerDes, and PCI Express.
 

QorIQ LS1 SoC details

The first three QorIQ LS1 SoCs are the networking-oriented QorIQ LS1020A, the industrial HMI-targeted, LCD-enabled LS1021A, and the cost-optimized LS1022A. All three are built around dual ARM Cortex-A7 cores clocked at up to 1GHz, except for the LS1022A, which tops out at 600MHz. The company’s pre-silicon CoreMark benchmarks are said to demonstrate performance of over 6,000. Typical power consumption for the 19 x 19mm SoCs is claimed to be less than 3 Watts, or in the case of the LS1022A, less than 2 Watts.



Block diagrams: LS1020A, LS1021A, and LS1022A
(click images to enlarge)

The QorIQ LS1 SoCs are equipped with 512KB L2 Cache, as well as 32KB of both instruction and data cache per core, and 128KB of SRAM. The processors offer support for dual precision floating point and NEON SIMD, as well as enhanced, single-bit error detection and ECC correction technology, says Freescale.

The memory controller supports DDR3L RAM at up to 1600MHz, and all but the LS1022A also support DDR4 RAM. Due to arrive in products next year, DDR4 is said to be faster and more power-efficient, and provides greater compatibility with 3D graphics.

Other major differences between the SoCs include the availability of USB 3.0 support and SEC 5.4 security acceleration on all but the LS1022A. The LS1021A, meanwhile, is the only model that offers an LCD controller, making it ideal for HMI industrial equipment. The LS1020A is billed as more of a networking gateway product, while the LS1022A targets “power-sensitive industrial applications,” says Freescale.

Networking is not a good fit for the LS1022A since it can only support one SerDes lane instead of four lanes on the other two models. The four-lane, 6GHz, multi-protocol SerDes interface supports up to 3x gigabit Ethernet ports, dual DMA-controlled PCI Express 2.0 connections, and a single SATA 3.0 port simultaneously, says the chipmaker.

Peripheral and interconnect support for the QorIQ LS1 SoCs include:

  • ARM Cache Coherent Interconnect (CCI400)
  • ARM AMBA4 MPCore virtualization
  • Integrated 16-bit flash controller
  • QuadSPI flash controller
  • LCD controller (LS1020A only)
  • USB 3.0 superspeed controller with integrated PHY, supporting OTG, host and device modes (LS1020A and LS1021A only)
  • USB 2.0 controller supporting OTG, host and device modes
  • SD/MMC controller
  • SATA3 controller supporting 6G/tps
  • 3x I2C
  • 4x CAN
  • 2x SPI
  • 10x UARTs

The QorIQ LS1 processors are supported with evaluation kits that include a Linux 3.12-based board support package (BSP) and optimized drivers. The kit also ships with a six-month evaluation license for Freescale’s CodeWarrior development tools. Freescale’s VortiQa networking software appears to be an extra-cost option. The QorIQ LS1 family is also supported by Freescale’s Tower System hardware development platform, which offers an integrated on-board debug probe.

Testimonials were provided by Mentor Graphics, which will support the platform with its Mentor Embedded Linux development platform, as well as its Nucleus tools. Wind River announced support, but only for its VxWorks platform, not Wind River Linux. Enea did not mention whether its support would include Enea Linux or only its OSE platforms.

“Freescale’s QorIQ LS1 series is an impressive example of how application specific IP and SoC design can combine with ARM technology to create a flexible and integrated product,” stated Charlene Marini, vice president, Marketing, Embedded Segments, ARM.

The QorIQ LS1 processors will begin sampling in Q1 2014. More information may be found at Freescale’s QorIQ LS1020A and LS1022A product page and QorIQ LS1021A product page.

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