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Arduino-compatible open SBC taps Cortex-A5 SoC

Feb 28, 2014 — by Eric Brown 3,098 views

[Updated 4:20PM] — Newark Element14’s $79, Linux-ready “SAMA5D3 Xplained” SBC showcases Atmel’s SAMA5D3 processor, with features like dual LAN ports and Arduino compatibility.

Last year we saw two Linux-supported, SODIMM-style computer-on-modules based on the Atmel SAMA5D3 system-on-chip: the Glomation GECM-5100 and the ShiraTech AT-501. Now, in collaboration with Atmel, Newark Element14 has delivered an open source “SAMA5D3 Xplained” single board computer and evaluation kit, backed by the Element14 developer community and Atmel’s Linux4SAM developers site

SAMA5D3 Xplained
(click images to enlarge)

The SAMA5D3 Xplained (ATSAMA5D3-XPLD) kit is the latest in Atmel’s line of Atmel Xplained evaluation kits. It’s designed primarily for wearable computers and low-power mobile applications, but is also suitable for a variety of industrial HMI, networking gateways, and robotics applications, says Newark Element14.

Atmel’s 536MHz SAMA5D3 SoC is claimed to offer 850DMIPS performance with 200mW power draw, and provides 1328MB/s transfer rates at 166MHz bus speed. The SAMA5D3′s performance is edged upward with an embedded floating point unit (FPU), and its LCD TFT controller includes a graphics accelerator for overlay, alpha-blending, rotation, scaling, and color space conversion.


The SAMA5D3 Xplained SBC supports the SAMA5D3 SoC with 256MB each of DDR3 RAM and NAND flash. There’s also an SD card slot on the bottom of the 125 x 75mm board, as well as an optional microSD slot on the top of the board, says Newark Element14.

Block diagrams: SAMA5D3 Xplained SBC; SAMA5D3 SoC
(click image to enlarge)

Real-world ports include both 10/100 and 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet ports, as well as a pair of USB host ports. There’s also a Micro-USB device port, which like the available serial DBGU port and JTAG port, can be used for programming or debugging.

The Micro-USB port can alternatively be used to draw 5V power. Other power inputs include a standard power jack or an Arduino shield. The board features an Arduino R3 header that exchanges PIO signals including GPIO,TWI, SPI, USART, UART, audio, and ISI expansion with compatible shields.

SAMA5D3 Xplained port detail
(click image to enlarge)

An LCD interface and LCD TFT controller are available for touchscreen applications. There are also some user-definable buttons and LEDs. The above diagram shows some onboard ADC inputs, as well as CAN and SPI interfaces, which we’ve added to our feature list, despite the fact that they do not appear in Newark Element14’s spec table.

The SAMA5D3 Xplained’s NAND flash is pre-loaded with a Linux-based embedded operating system, “compiled following instructions found on the Linux4SAM website,” says Newark Element14. The distro is based on Linux 3.10 LTS, Linux Mainline, and Yocto 1.5.1, and ships with a Qt developer kit. The SBC is also said to support headless Android, and C-language drivers and examples are available for bare metal developers.

Boot process (left) and Linux4SAM website interaction
(click images to enlarge)

The hardware design is open source, with all design files and schematics available. There is also extensive software documentation, as well as Element14 community resources.

Specifications listed for the Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained SBC and kit include:

  • Processor — Atmel SAMA5D3 (1x Cortex-A5 @ 536MHz)
  • Memory/storage:
    • 256MB DDR2 RAM (Micron)
    • 256MB NAND flash (Micron)
    • Optional serial EEPROM SPI and/or 1-wire EEPROM
    • SD/MMCPlus slot (8-bit)
    • Optional microSD slot (4-bit)
  • Display — LCD interface; LCD TFT controller
  • Networking — gigabit Ethernet port; Fast Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB host ports
    • Micro-USB (A) device port
    • Serial DBGU interface (6-lead, 3V3-level)
    • JTAG connector (10-pin)
    • CAN, SPI, ADC inputs
    • Arduino R3-compatible header for PIO signals (GPIO,TWI, SPI, USART, UART, audio, and ISI expansion)
  • Other features — reset and startup buttons, general-purpose button, 2x LEDs
  • Power:
    • 5V from USB, power jack, or Arduino shield
    • Active Semi PMIC
    • Power measurement straps
    • Optional power SuperCap for CMOS battery backup
  • Dimensions — 125 x 75mm (10-layer PCB)
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 70°C
  • Operating system — Linux 3.10 (Yocto 1.5) with Qt; supports headless Android and bare metal C

Other recent open SBCs from Newark Element14 include the recent, IoT-oriented RIoTboard, based on a Freescale i.MX6Solo SoC. Newark Element14 is the U.S. distributor of U.K.-based Premier Farnell.

“Our partnership with Newark element14 on the development and manufacturing of this kit and its first set of expansion boards enables engineers from all communities to build applications requiring rapid prototyping and evaluation for their MPU designs,” stated Jacko Wilbrink, Sr. Marketing Director of Microprocessors, Atmel Corp.

Further information

The SAMA5D3 Xplained (ATSAMA5D3-XPLD) evaluation kit will ship in mid-March for $79 from Newark Element14 in North America, from Farnell Element14 in Europe, and from Element14 in APAC. A pre-registration page is available, along with datasheets, manuals, schematics, videos, and more, at the SAMA5D3 Xplained product page.

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One response to “Arduino-compatible open SBC taps Cortex-A5 SoC”

  1. neverenough says:

    Nice item! I’ve ben looking for an arm platform with more than 1 ethernet for long time, this is the first one i meet. I would like to build a headless firewall for domestic use, but i’m not sure if such CPU is powerfull enough to inspect packet’s traffic and host some light services without slowing down the line. Sometimes my alix x86 500mhz router gets slowed when comes to elaborate interface’s usage stats via web server (though it can be caused by software bugs)
    What do you think? Maybe there are other better products?
    Thanks in advance

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