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Tiny module runs Linux on Altera ARM+FPGA SoC

May 31, 2013 — by Eric Brown 10,695 views

Critical Link announced a tiny, Linux-ready, SODIMM-style module based on the Altera Cyclone V SX-U672 ARM/FPGA SoC. The MityARM-5CSX builds on the Cyclone V’s mix of FPGA logic and dual-core 800MHz ARM Cortex-A9 processing power, adding two GigE channels, 4x PCIe lanes, and 145 GPIO lines.

The MityARM-5CSX computer-on-module (COM) is designed for a variety of “high-throughput, highly integrated embedded systems,” says Critical Link. These are said to include applications like machine vision, test and measurement, scientific imaging, medical imaging and instrumentation, military/aerospace, and motor control.

MityARM-5CSX is based on an Altera ARM/FPGA SoC
(click image to enlarge)

The 3.2 x 1.5-inch MityARM-5CSX COM employs the 314-pin MXM 3.0 standard’s edgecard connector layout for mating with an application baseboard board, although the connector’s signal utilization is unique to Critical Link’s design. The module is among the first to use the Altera Cyclone V system-on-chip (SoC) as a foundation.


Altera shipped the 28nm Cyclone V last December as an answer to rival Xilinx’s Zynq SoCs, which have appeared in modules such as the iVeia Atlas-I-Z7e. Like the Zynq, the Cyclone V combines field programmable gate array (FPGA) programmable logic — in this case, similar to that found in Altera’s Stratix V FPGAs — with a more developer-accessible, dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor.

As a result, instead of being limited to a small group of FPGA experts using platforms like the supported Altera Quartus II, the MityARM-5CSX COM can be tapped by a much broader base of developers. Supported OSes include Linux, Android, uC/OS, QNX, and Windows CE. Digia’s Qt Embedded Graphics and GNU Toolchain are also said to be supported.

The MityARM-5CSX COM integrates the mid-range, 3.125Gbps-optimized SX-U672 member of the Cyclone V family, which sits between the E and high-end GT series. Like the Zynq, the Cyclone V SX-U672 is split into Cortex-A9 and FPGA subsystems connected via high-speed AXI interconnects.

Block diagrams: MityARM COM, Altera SoC, Cortex A9 CPU core
(click images to enlarge)

The Altera SoC’s dual-core, 800MHz ARM Cortex-A9 “Hard Processor System” (HPS) controls the dual gigabit Ethernet interfaces, as well as other interfaces that do not appear to be supported on the MityARM-5CSX, including USB, CAN, SPI, I2C, and MMC/SDIO. On the MityARM-5CSX, the FPGA fabric controls a PCI Express “hard core,” six 3.125GB Ethernet transceivers, and 145 GPIOs, “many” of which support 875MHz SerDes connections.

Both subsystems share the 1GB DDR3 memory supplied on the MityARM-5CSX COM. The FPGA fabric also gets its own optional stash of 256MB DDR3 RAM. The COM also integrates power management, although no specifics were furnished. Operating temperatures will include commercial and industrial temperature ranges, says the company.

Specifications listed for the MityARM-5CSX COM include:

  • Processor — Altera Cyclone V SX SX-U672 (dual 800MHz Cortex-A9 cores with NEON double-precision FPU coprocessor, connected via 102Gbps AXI with FPGA)
  • Cache — 32k/32k L1; 512k L2
  • Memory — 1GB DDR3 RAM; 256MB DDR3 FPGA RAM (optional); 32MB QPSI NOR flash
  • Networking — 2x gigabit Ethernet interfaces
  • FPGA-controlled I/O fabric:
    • “PCI Express hard core” providing 4x PCIe lanes
    • “Many” 875MHz SerDes lanes
    • Up to 145 user-programmable I/O lines
    • 6x 3.124 gigabit transceivers
  • JTAG connector
  • Power management functions
  • Dimensions — 82 x 38mm (3.2 x 1.5 inches); plugs into 314-pin MXM 3.0 right-angle connector
  • Operating system — Linux, Android, uC/OS, QNX, Windows CE


Critical Link says its MityARM-5CSX module will be available in the third quarter from Arrow Electronics, Mouser, and DigiKey, priced around $500 at quantity one. More information may be found at Critical Link‘s website and its MityARM-5CSX product page.

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