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Open SBC runs Linux on Altera ARM+FPGA SoC

Aug 20, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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Arrow Electronics and Terasic have announced a $249, Linux- and Android-ready SBC development kit built around Altera’s hybrid ARM+FPGA Cyclone V SoC, supported by a RocketBoards.org community site. The Sockit Development Kit offers 2GB RAM plus I/O interfaces including VGA, audio, gigabit Ethernet, and USB, plus high speed on-board expansion via off-the-shelf or custom expansion cards.

Electronics distributor Arrow Electronics and Taiwan-based Altera FPGA specialists Terasic appear to be collaborating on the design, manufacture, distribution, and support of the Sockit single board computer (SBC). Additionally, the Sockit evaluation kit is backed by a RocketBoards.org community site devoted to Cyclone V development boards, featuring a wiki, mailing list, schematics, Linux downloads, and extensive documentation.



Sockit SBC front and back
(click images for larger images with labeled features)

RocketBoards.org also currently is home to three other Altera Cyclone V based development boards: the Altera SoC Development Board; the EVB SoCrates Evaluation Board; and the Macnica Helio SoC Evaluation Kit. All three ship with Linux support and appear to have been introduced this year, shortly after Altera’s Cyclone V chip reached production (see farther below for a brief summary of each).

With RocketBoards.org, Altera is clearly trying to build the same support for the Cyclone V that Xilinx has enjoyed with its similar Zynq-7000 ARM/FPGA SoC introduced two years before. Like the Zynq, the Cyclone V uses a high-speed AXI interconnect to closely link a dual-core, 800MHz ARM Cortex-A9 subsystem — called the “Hard Processor System” (HPS) by Altera — with an FPGA. Compared to earlier ARM/FPGA hybrids, both SoCs provide much greater integration between the two subsystems, and place the Linux-driven ARM subsystem in charge, offering easier programmability of the FPGA’s programmable logic.



Sockit SBC block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

 

The Sockit uses the mid-range SX variant of Altera’s Cyclone V, which was also adopted by Critical Link for its MityARM-5CSX computer-on-module. The SX provides programmable logic equivalent to an Altera Stratix V FPGA, offering the following capabilities and characteristics:

  • 110K LEs
  • 41,509 ALMs
  • 5,140 M10K memory blocks
  • 6x FPGA PLLs
  • 3x HPS PLLs
  • 2x hard memory controllers
  • 3.125G Transceivers

The Sockit SBC backs up the Cyclone V with 2GB of DDR3 RAM, split between ARM and FPGA duty. On the ARM side of the architecture, a microSD slot is provided, along with a gigabit Ethernet port, audio ports, a VGA port, and a 128 x 64-pixel backlit LCD module. Both a micro-USB 2.0 OTG port and a micro-USB-to-UART port are also present, with the latter supported by a “USB Blaster II” component that enables configuration and debug of the ARM subsystem. The FPGA uses a “Quad Serial Configuration device,” according to Terasic.

User-configurable I/O functions available on the Sockit include eight keys, eight switches, and eight LEDs, with each bank split between the ARM and FPGA subsystems. Accelerometers and a temperature sensor are also on board.

The Sockit also provides an LTC connector with SPI, I2C, and GPIO interfaces, as well as an HSPC (High Speed Mezzanine Connector) with 8-channel transceivers to extend FPGA functionality.
 

Optional expansion modules

Terasic offers five daughter cards (shown below), which connect via the SBC’s HSMC connector:

  • AD/DA — analog I/O
  • ADA-HSMC — high-speed analog I/O
  • HDMI Transmitter — HDMI interface; includes reference design featuring source code written in Verilog and C, for HDMI signal transmitting
  • DVI-HSMC — DVI interface with UXGA resolution
  • GPIO-HSTC — converts HSMC or HSTC (High-Speed Terasic Connector) to three 40-pin expansion prototype connectors compatible with Altera DE3/DE2-115/DE2/DE1/DE0 expansion headers




Optional Sockit expansion modules

 

Sockit SBC specifications

Specifications listed for the Sockit SBC include:

  • Processor — Altera Cyclone V SX (5CSXFC6D6F31C8NES) — 2x Cortex-A9 cores with Stratix V equivalent FPGA fabric
  • Memory:
    • 2GB DDR3 RAM (1x for ARM, 1x for FPGA)
    • 128MB QSPI flash
    • EPCQ256 Flash on FPGA
    • MicroSD slot
  • Display — 24-bit VGA DAC; 128 x 64-pixel LCD with backlight
  • Networking — gigabit Ethernet
  • Other I/O
    • Micro-USB 2.0 OTG
    • USB-connected UART
    • Audio line-in, line-out, and mic (24-bit codec)
    • LTC connector containing SPI, I2C, and GPIO interfaces
    • HSMC expansion connector (8-channel transceivers, configurable I/O standards 1.5/1.8/2.5/3.3V)
  • Sensors — 3-Axis G-sensor (ARM); temperature sensor (FPGA)
  • Other features — 8x user keys; 8x user switches; 8x LEDs; 2x HPS reset buttons
  • Power — 12V DC
  • Dimensions — 150 x 110 x 47mm
  • Operating system — Linux; Android available

Terasic and Arrow both ship the Sockit SBC with a Linux board-support package, using Altera’s 13.02 Linux build. The BSP sources are built with Yocto/OpenEmbedded code, and the kit also includes U-Boot and pre-built Linaro tool chain. RocketBoards.org also includes an Android 4.x build.
 

The YouTube video below provides a short demo by Terasic of the Sockit dev board.



Sockit SBC demo

 

Other RocketBoards.org Altera Cylone-based SBCs

In addition to supporting the Sockit, the RocketBoards.org community site also supports three other relatively new, Linux-ready evaluation kits based on the Altera Cyclone V SX. The following summaries only include the boards’ highlights, but links are provided for more information:

  • Altera SoC Development Board — Altera’s board offers 2GB RAM and a microSD slot with a 4GB card. Other ARM-connected features on this 8.19 x 5.22-inch SBC include gigabit Ethernet and USB OTG ports and a CAN interface. FPGA I/O includes dual 10/100 Ethernet EtherCAT PHYs, a PCI Express x4 connector, and an HSMC connector with optional HSMC breakout and loopback boards.
  • Macnica Helio SoC Evaluation Kit — The Macnica board features 2GB RAM, a microSD slot, a gigabit Ethernet port, a USB OTG port, and a UART. An HSMC connector is also provided that supports add-on “pico-modules” that include a WiFi module, as well as temperature and humidity sensor modules. A VGA touchscreen is optional.
  • EVB SoCrates Evaluation Board for Cyclone V — EVB’s board is notable for being round in shape (100mm diameter), making it a good fit for certain embedded control and robotics applications. The EVB SoCrates is equipped with 1GB of DDR3 RAM, as well as a microSD slot and a gigabit Ethernet port. Two micro-USB ports are also provided along with header support for CAN, SPI, I2C, LVDS, and LCD TFT.

 

Further information

The Sockit Evaluation Kit appears to be available now for $249 at Terasic and Arrow Electronics. More information may be found at the Terasic and Arrow Sockit product pages, as well as on the RocketBoards.org website.
 

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