Thursday, January 29, 2015

Customizing a Linux distribution for an ARM® Cortex®-A9 based SBC

We will be pulling Yocto 1.7.1 (Dizzy branch) from Freescale source and building a BSP for the i.MX 6 RIoTboard. The final image will consist of the following components

  • U-Boot version 2014.10 from the Freescale git repositories.
  • Linux kernel version 3.17.4 from the Freescale git repositories.
  • ext3 root filesystem with selected packages

Camas Lilies at Sunrise

The image will be built from the custom distribution (bsecdist) and custom image (bsec-image) defined in the last post. bsec-image is derived from core-image-minimal. The configuration changes below will add support for package tests to the baec-image. In addition, the profiling tools and static development libraries and header files will be added to the image. Finally, several standard userspace packages will be added to baec-image; namely, bison, flex, and and gunning. Last, several configuration directives will be added to the local configuration file so that source code archives, package versions, and accompanying license files are stored and cached in a local directory for future builds and compliance purposes.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Creating a custom Linux distribution for an ARM® Cortex®-A9 based SBC

The Yocto project provides an ideal platform for building a custom Linux distribution.  It's design was intended to model a machine.  The Yocto project or machine should take a number of inputs and produce an output.  The inputs to the machine are the specifications for the Linux distribution.  The output of the machine is the Linux distribution.

The Yocto project is the most widely supported system for building custom Linux distributions.
The Yocto project is very well supported by both communities and companies.  The project consists of a tool called bitbake and a build system that is based off of OpenEmbedded.  Together, these two components along with a defined set of metadata comprise what is called the Poky reference platform.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Setting up an ARM® Cortex®-A9 based SBC

The RiOTboard - an ARM® Cortex®-A9 based SBC

The RIoTboard is an ARM® Cortex®-A9 based single board computer (SBC).  The RIoTboard has a Freescale i.MX6 Solo application processor and an integrated Freescale Kinetis MCU for additional debugging and development.  The i.MX6 Solo supports the single ARM® Cortex®-A9 MPCore Platform.  The i.MX6 Solo contains ARM® TrustZone® technology and the i.MX 6 SoC on the RIoTboard has a 96 KB Boot Rom with support for high assurance boot.   Other features of the board include 1 GB of DDR3 memory, 4 GB eMMC, JTAG, Serial, mini USB for OpenSDA, mini USB for USB OTG, LVDS, parallel RGB expansion, 4 USB-A ports, HDMI, audio, reset button, microSD card slot, SD card slot, and boot onboard boot switches.   The board is very reasonably priced.  Last but not least, the Freescale i.MX 6 ARM® Cortex®-A9 application processor has ARM® TrustZone® technology.

ARM® TrustZone® Technology

The i.MX6 Solo processor on the RIoTboard is labeled MCIMX6S8DVM10AB.  According to the i.MX6 Solo data sheet, the processor supports a number of security related features. The list includes ARM® TrustZone® technology with TZ architecture support, a secure JTAG controller for locking down and protecting the JTAG port, a cryptographic acceleration and assurance module with secure RAM and a true PRNG, a central security unit (CSU) including secure non-volatile storage, high assurance boot, and the separation of memory and interrupts between secure world and normal world.  There are more security related features but this is a general list.

the view from above - a trusted zone

Monday, December 15, 2014

ARM®, NFC Technology, and the Single Wire Protocol

At the heart of an ARM Powered® smartphone with NFC technology is the contactless front end or CLF. The CLF is responsible for managing radio-frequency communication at 13.56 MHz.

A mobile phone with NFC technology contains only one CLF.  The CLF is connected to the ARM® processor or application processor via UART, I²C, and in some cases SPI.  These protocols are fairly basic and facilitate straightforward communication between the application processor and CLF via a typical Linux or UNIX-based kernel.  Updating the firmware on the CLF is a typical operation that is performed over the UART serial line.

While a mobile phone with NFC technology contains only one CLF, the phone may contain multiple secure elements. There may be a secure element on the UICC card, on the microSD card, and/or embedded with the CLF on the PCB.  Applets residing on each of the secure elements can serve both similar and different purposes.  Both the secure element and the CLF are small, self-contained computers with I/O communications interfaces. In the case where there are multiple secure elements residing on the phone, each of the secure elements is a small, self-contained computer with I/O communication interfaces.  A secure element differs from a normal computer in that it is embedded. It has limited resources available for performing computations.

Friday, December 12, 2014

ARM Powered® smartphones with NFC technology

Turing machines, first described by Alan Turing in (Turing 1937), are simple abstract computational devices intended to help investigate the extent and limitations of what can be computed.  - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The head and the tape in a turing machine
There are a large number of Near field communication (NFC)-enabled phones (devices) on the consumer market. LG, Huawei, Motorola, Samsung, HTC, Nokia, ZTE, Sony, RIM, Amazon, and Apple manufacture and sell mobile phones with NFC technology.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The ARM® Cortex®-A9 Processor - Real World Uses

The ARM® Cortex®-A processor is found in compute-intensive applications.  ARM® Cortex®-A processors run full or rich operating systems such as Linux or UNIX.  I mentioned the ARM® Cortex®-A9 based MPCore in the last blog post.  The ARM® Cortex®-A9 processor processor is highly configurable.

ARM® Processor with Freescale logo (© Freescale Semiconductor)

Freescale Semiconductor implements an ARM® Cortex®-A9 processor called the i.MX 6.  Freescale sells the i.MX 6 processor in a lite, single, dual, dual-lite, and quad-core configuration. The i.MX 6 processor is used in critical applications across multiple industries.  These industries include aerospace, medical, and industrial.  i.MX processors can be found in Medical-CT scanners, ultrasound machines, automotive telematic systems, airplane computers, e-readers, and a host of other devices.  The power efficiency characteristics of the i.MX 6 make them attractive for wearables such as eye glasses and watches.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

ARM® TrustZone® technology - a Few Good Boards

ARM® provides a reference platform for software and hardware developers building systems based on ARM® Cortex®-A processors. The system is called the Juno ARM® Development Platform. The platform ships with a board that contains an ARM® Cortex®-A57 processor and ARM® Cortex®-A53 MPCore processor. The ARM® Cortex®-A57 processor and ARM® Cortex®-A57 processor are 64-bit and implement the ARM®v8-A instruction set architecture (ISA). A board support package can be built for this board using OpenEmbedded / Yocto.

You may notice that the Apple® A7 and Apple® A8 chips in the iPhone® 5c, iPhone® 5s, iPhone® 6, and iPhone® 6 Plus are based on the ARM® Cortex®-A53 and ARM® Cortex®-A57.  The Samsung Exynos 5433 Octa SoC also has an ARM® Cortex®-A57 and ARM® Cortex®-A53 MPCore.  The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 apparently has an 8-core Exynos 5433 processor in it.

Another development board is the Nvidia TK1 development board.  This board has a quad-core ARM® Cortex®-A15 processor.  These boards have been available for purchase at local retailers as of lately. However; the Nvidia K1 "Denver" is the latest product that they are working on and is not available for purchase yet.  It is rumored that the project "Denver" board has an ARM® Cortex®-A57 and an ARM® Cortex®-A53 MPCore.

The Freescale I.MX 6 processor has been hugely popular across a multitude of industries in a variety of embedded products. Freescale sells a development board with the I.MX 6 processor on it. The board is called the SABRE board for smart devices. The SABRE board has a Freescale I.MX 6 Quad Core ARM® Cortex®-A9 processor.   There are other vendors on the Internet that sell their variation of this development board.  One example is Boundary Devices. They sell their version of this board with the same Freescale I.MX 6 Quad Core ARM® Cortex®-A9 MPCore.  A board support package can be built for both the Freescale SABRE board and the Boundary Devices board using OpenEmbedded / Yocto.

There are a few key features of ARM development boards that should be taken into account if you purchase one. Namely; the e-fuses should not be blown out of the box. They should be left open. You can then blow the fuses to fit your configuration.

Here is a quick overview of the processors and boards I've mentioned above.

Dev Board
ARM® Cortex®-A57 and ARM® Cortex®-A53 MPCoreARM®ARM®v8-AJuno Ref PlatformYes
ARM® Cortex®-A15NvidiaARM®v7TK1Yes
ARM® Cortex®-A15SamsungARM®v7Arndale Exynos 5420Yes
ARM® Cortex®-A9 MPCoreFreescaleARM®v7Freescale SABREYes
ARM® Cortex®-A9 MPCoreFreescaleARM®v7Boundary DevicesYes
ARM® Cortex®-A9 MPCore + Zync 7000 FPGAXilinxARM®v7Zed BoardYes
ARM® Cortex®-A9 MPCore + Zync 7000 FPGAXilinxARM®v7Digilent ZyboYes

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