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Safety conscious TI AM64x debuts on $99 dev kit

Jun 16, 2021 — by Eric Brown — 760 views

[Updated: June 18] —TI’s 16nm Sitara AM64x offers up to 2x -A53, up to 4x Cortex-R5F, and a Cortex-M4F core for FuSa and ships with a Linux SDK and choice of $99 and $299 eval kits. Phytec, SolidRun, and TQ have also unveiled AM64x based modules.

The Texas Instruments Sitara AM64x was announced on Embedded Computing in early May, but we did not hear about it until TQ Embedded sent us an announcement this week for a TQMa64xx module based on the new SoC. Then we saw that TI quietly announced the industrial-focused AM64x in a February blog post and has posted “preview” product pages for the 5x AM64x models. We also see that Phytec has posted a product page for a PhyCore-AM64X module and SolidRun has a page for an AM64x SOM.

We will cover all three xAM64 based modules in the coming days. [Update: Our module roundup is here and also covers two HummingBoard-T AM64X SBCs. The story also puzzles over an AM6424 variant with 2x Cortex-A53 and 2x Cortex-R5F cores used by some of the modules, which is not among the five models listed in TI’s documentation.]

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Here, we focus on the AM64x SoC, which does not appear to have received much media attention. We also examine TI’s $99 SK-AM64 starter kit, which features a 40-pin Raspberry Pi connector, as well as a $299 AM64x EVM. Both kits appear to be available now and ship with a Linux SDK (see farther below).



AM6442 block diagram (left) and AM64x model comparison (There also appears to be a AM6424 variant not listed here.)
(click images to enlarge)

The headless, 16nm FinFET fabricated AM64x is a less powerful, but more power efficient and deterministic sibling to the Sitara AM65x, which offers 4x 1.1GHz Cortex-A53 cores, a PowerVR GPU, 2x Cortex-R5F MCUs, and 6x real-time PRU chips. The new AM64x runs on less than 1-2 Watts.

Both these processors follow the earlier TI Sitara AM57x, which has 2x 1.5GHz Cortex-A15 cores, up to 2x Power VR SGX544 GPUs, and up to 2x C66x DSP cores. (The high-end AM5729, which adds 4x AI-enabled EVE cores, drives the BeagleBone AI SBC.)



SK-AM64 starter kit
(click image to enlarge)

Like many new industrial processors, TI’s Sitara AM64x is designed to meet functional safety (FuSa) requirements. Other FuSa-ready chips include Intel’s FE variants of Elkhart Lake Atom x-6000 and GRE variants of 11th Gen Tiger Lake, as well as Xilinx’s Versal AI Edge and Nvidia’s Jetson AGX Xavier Industrial. Like all these SoCs, the AM64x delivers FuSa with the help of an MCU, in this case a 400MHz Cortex-M4F.

The AM64x is further equipped with 1x or 2x 1GHz Cortex-A53 cores running Linux and up to 4x 800MHz Cortex-R5F cores for real-time duty. The SoC also supplies up to 2x programmable real-time units (PRUs).

Each of the PRU units integrates 6x PRU_ICSSG RISC cores for 12x cores total. The PRU units are used to manage 4x GbE ports with time-sensitive networking (TSN) communications with IEEE 1588 precision time protocol (PTP). There is also support for a fifth, standard GbE port.

The AM64x also supports EtherCAT, PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, and other industrial protocols. Although the dual -A53 AM6412 and single-core AM6411 models include the PRU units, they are the only two that do not support real-time industrial Ethernet.

The AM64x offers a balance of “application processing, real-time control, and communications tasks of platforms like PLCs, motor drives, and industrial robots,” says Embedded Computing. The FuSa capability supports hardware integrity up to SIL 2, meeting IEC 61508 requirements, plus “systematic capability” up to SIL 3, says TI. The Cortex-M4F is isolated from the rest of the SoC with a separate interconnect and reset, firewalls and timeout gaskets, and dedicated PLL and I/O supply.

The AM64x offers tightly-coupled memory (TCM) cache banks and SRAM partitioning of up to 2MB of on-chip ECC RAM. The RAM can be divided into 8x banks of 256KB, each of which can be allocated to a single core to help isolate software tasks. There is also support for up to 1600-MTps external LPDDR4 and DDR4 via a 16-bit bus.

The memory design, along with other features such as data movement subsystem service (DMSS), enable low-latency data paths between SoC resources and external peripherals that require tight control loops, says Embedded Computing. Other features that add to this determinism include 2x 64-bit industrial Ethernet peripherals (IEPs) for time stamping and synchronization, as well as 18 sigma-delta filters, 6x multi-protocol position encoder interfaces, and enhanced PWMs.

Additional peripheral support includes PCIe Gen2, USB 3.1 dual-role, 9x UART, 7x SPI, 8x Fast SPI, 3x GPIO, 2x CAN, and more, as seen in the block diagram above. The SoC provides a PMIC, as well as security features including a crypto engine, Hardware Root of Trust, and Arms’s TrustZone-based Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs).

 
Linux SDK, SK-AM64 starter kit and AM64x EVM

The AM64x ships with a Linux SDK with a mainline Long-Term Support (LTS) Linux kernel, bootloader, and Yocto file system. There is also a $99 SK-AM64 starter kit and $299 AM64x EVM kit.



SK-AM64 starter kit detail views
(click images to enlarge)

The SK-AM64 starter kit ships with an undisclosed AM64x model plus 2GB LPDDR4 and a microSD slot. There are 2x GbE ports, a USB 3.0 host port, and a USB Type-C port for 5V power input. You also get dual micro-USB ports, one of which is for debugging.

The SK-AM64 is equipped with a Raspberry Pi HAT compatible 40-pin GPIO connector plus two more expansion connectors. One is a 54-pin PRU connector with PRG0 interface, and the other a 28-pin MCU “safety” connector. Other features include 2x pushbuttons, 2x boot switches, a 20-pin JTAG connector, a test automation header, and an XDS110 emulator.



AM64x EVM and block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

The larger, higher-end AM64x EVM is equipped with the high-end AM6442 plus 2GB DDR4, 16GB eMMC, and a microSD slot. Other features include 3x GbE ports, a PCIe x4 connector, 3x micro-USB ports, dual CAN headers, and an FSI connector.


AM64x EVM detail views
(click images to enlarge)

The 12V powered AM64x EVM is further equipped with a 60-pin MIPI connector, JTAG, and a 1-inch OLED display. The board integrates several current measurement and test connectors, as well as various resets, buttons, and boot-mode switches. Cables are also included.

 
Further information

The Sitara AM64x is sampling now and is available with a $99 SK-AM64 AM64x starter kit and a $299 AM64x EVM kit. The AM64x production schedule is unclear, but TQ’s module is due to ship in volume in 1Q 2022.

More information may be found in TI’s blog post announcement, which has links to all five product pages, as well as the AM64x datasheet.
 

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