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.


The OrCam, powered by the i.MX 6, is a clip-on wearable designed for users with vision impairments. The OrCam clips-on to a pair of eye glasses and continually scans the user's field of vision, detecting objects, and providing aural feedback via a bone conduction ear piece. For a quick overview of the OrCam, the following video is worth watching

OrCam Powered by Freescale i.MX 6Quad Processor and PMIC

The Kindle Fire HD 6 tablet also has an i.MX 6 processor.  Keep an eye out for wearables, watches, and glasses that have an i.MX 6 processor.

When it comes to development, the i.MX 6 is almost ideal.  The manuals and data sheets for the processor are very long. However; the one time programmable memory locations or eFuses on the i.MX 6 are highly configurable.  eFuses are standard in higher end microprocessors. The eFuses can be read or blown (one-time write to an on-chip memory location) via u-boot or the Freescale manufacturing tool.  You can also pull them via the Linux sysfs interface.  There are over typically over 100 eFuses on higher end microprocessors.  A few of the important values that are stored in one-time programmable memory (eFuses) include the MAC address, boot configuration parameters, high-assurance boot (HAB) configuration parameters, and master key.  As a side note, many chips have on-chip memory locations that can only be written to one time.  U-boot conveniently supports reading and writing (blowing) the eFuses on many different microprocessors.  U-boot is open source and it supports one-time programmable memory (eFuses or OTP) on ARM®-based processors.  The U-Boot boot loader supports a large number of chip sets; including ARM®, AVR32, Blackfin, MicroBlaze, MIPS, PPC, and x86.

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