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Dev board runs Linux on Altera ARM+FPGA SoC

Nov 11, 2014 — by Eric Brown 4,077 views

Newark Element14’s “Lark Board” SBC runs Linux on Altera’s ARM/FPGA Cyclone V SX SoC, and offers USB Blaster II, camera, and expansion interfaces.

The Lark Board, which sells for $940, is one of the more powerful ARM development boards you’re likely to find, at least if FPGAs are what you’re looking for. It’s designed for development of high-volume applications including automotive, medical equipment, video surveillance, and industrial control.

The Lark Board, which is manufactured by Embest, and designed, branded, and distributed by Newark Element14, is built around Altera’s Cyclone V SX system-on-chip. The SoC mixes the FPGA logic of Altera’s Stratix V FPGAs with a “Hard Processor System” (HPS) that consists of a pair of 800MHz ARM Cortex-A9 cores that run Linux. The two subsystems are linked by high-speed AXI interconnects, somewhat like the Xilinx Zynq SoC.

Lark Board, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

A number of Linux-oriented computer-on-modules have shipped based on the Cycone V, including the Denx MCV, Critical Link’s SODIMM-style MityARM-5CSX, and iWave’s Qseven form-factor iW-RainboW-G17M-Q7 and related iW-RainboW-G16D development board. In addition, Arrow Electronics and Terasic released a Sockit Development Kit SBC based on the Cyclone V, supported by the community site.


The Lark Board uses the 5CSXFC6D6, Altera’s largest and most advanced model in its line of Cyclone V SX SoCs. The FPGA features 110K logic cells (LE), 5570 M10K memory blocks, 621 MLABs, 112 variable-precision DSP blocks, 224 18×18 multipliers, six PLLs, 288 IOs, 72+72 LVDS transceivers, and a memory controller. The SoC also integrates nine 3Gbps transceivers and two PCI-Express hard IPs, says Newark Element14.

Lark board detail view
(click image to enlarge)

The 180 x 120mm Lark Board provides 1GB DDR3 SDRAM to the HPS ARM subsystem, and another 1GB to the FPGA. The SBC also provides 4GB of eMMC Flash and a TF slot with an 8GB data card loaded with a Yocto Project-based Linux distribution.

Real-world coastline ports include a gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI and VGA ports, four USB 2.0 host ports, and a mini-USB port with USB Blaster II capabilities. The USB Blaster, which is said to increase the efficiency of FPGA debugging, supports Quartus II and ARM DS-5 development environments, says Newark Element14. Debugging is also available via JTAG and UART interfaces.

Simplified detail view of Lark Board (left) and block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

The Lark Board integrates an LCD connector with 4-wire touchscreen support, as well as a 30-pin digital camera connector. Additional interfaces include a 12-bit high-speed and a dual-channel 3.3GHz RF/IF differential amplifier alongside a 12-bit ADC to enable analog signal amplification, filtering, and sampling. There’s also an SDI interface supporting SMA input for 3G cellular add-ons. Expansion interfaces include PCIe ×4, and a pair of 40-pin connectors for the HPS and FPGA signals, respectively.

Summary of Lark Board specs

Specifications listed for the Lark Board include:

  • Processor — Altera Cyclone V SX 5CSXFC6D6 — 2x Cortex-A9 cores @ 800MHz with Stratix V equivalent FPGA fabric
  • Memory:
    • 2GB DDR3 RAM (1x for ARM, 1x for FPGA)
    • 4GB eMMC flash
    • TF (SD) card slot with 8GB card
  • Display:
    • VGA port at up to 1920 x 1080 pixels
    • HDMI port
    • 24-bit true-color LCD interface with 4-wire touch
  • Networking — gigabit Ethernet port
  • Other I/O
    • 4x USB 2.0 host ports
    • USB Blaster II (Mini-USB Type B port)
    • 12-bit, 30-pin digital camera input
    • SDI interface (TX/RX) supporting SMA input
    • 2x 12-bit ADC interface (105Msps high-accuracy), supporting SMA input
    • 12-bit, dual-channel 3.3GHz RF/IF differential amplifier
    • 10-pin JTAG interface (support external USB Blaster
    • UART for serial debug)
  • Expansion:
    • PCIe ×4 interface supporting PCIe x4, PCIe x2, and PCIe x1
    • 40-pin HPS (ARM) expansion interface (I2C, SPI, QSPI, UART, GPIO)
    • 40-pin FPGA interface (LVDS, RSDS, SLVS, mini-LVDS)
  • Other features — RTC; 5x user buttons; 8x user switches; 8x LEDs; reset button; 12V DC fan
  • Power:
    • 12V to 30V DC jack
    • ATX 4-pin connector
    • 19V DC power adapter
    • Altera Enpirion power solution
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 70°C
  • Dimensions — 180 x 120mm (10-layer PCB)
  • Operating system — Yocto Project-based Linux stack on 8GB card; other Linux distros available for download

“The launch of the Lark Board enables developers to efficiently utilize the advantages of Cyclone V SoC architecture, density and performance, offering a full-featured and powerful development platform for embedded system design and development,” stated Joerg Bertholdt, Director, Embedded Software Marketing and Planning, at Altera.

Further information

The Lark Board is available for $940 exclusively from Newark Element14 in North America, Farnell Element14 in Europe, and Element14 in Asia Pacific. More information may be found at the Lark Board product page.

A free webinar, called “Developing Advanced Embedded Systems with Altera Cyclone V SoC and Element14 Lark board”, will be held on Dec. 2 (requires Element14 community registration).

(advertise here)

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