Monday, December 8, 2014

The ARM Cortex-A9 Processor - Real World Uses

The ARM Cortex-A processor is commonly used in compute-intensive applications. These processors are capable of running full or rich operating systems such as Linux or UNIX. In the previous blog post, I mentioned the ARM Cortex-A9 based MPCore. The ARM Cortex-A9 processor is highly configurable and is implemented by Freescale Semiconductor in their i.MX 6 processor. The i.MX 6 processor is available in a variety of configurations, including lite, single, dual, dual-lite, and quad-core, and is used in critical applications across multiple industries, including aerospace, medical, and industrial. i.MX processors can be found in devices such as Medical-CT scanners, ultrasound machines, automotive telematics systems, e-readers, and more. Due to their power efficiency, i.MX 6 processors are also suitable for wearables such as glasses and watches.

One example of a device powered by the i.MX 6 is the OrCam, a clip-on wearable designed for users with vision impairments. The OrCam clips onto a pair of eyeglasses and scans the user's field of vision, detecting objects and providing aural feedback via a bone conduction earpiece.

Another device that uses the i.MX 6 processor is the Kindle Fire HD 6 tablet. It's worth keeping an eye out for other wearables, watches, and glasses that use the i.MX 6 processor.

In terms of development, the i.MX 6 is an ideal choice. Although the manuals and data sheets for the processor are quite lengthy, the one-time programmable memory locations or eFuses on the i.MX 6 are highly configurable. eFuses are standard in higher-end microprocessors and can be read or blown (one-time write to an on-chip memory location) using u-boot or the Freescale manufacturing tool. They can also be pulled via the Linux sysfs interface. Typically, there are over 100 eFuses on higher-end microprocessors, and they store important values such as the MAC address, boot configuration parameters, high-assurance boot (HAB) configuration parameters, and master key. U-boot conveniently supports reading and writing (blowing) the eFuses on many different microprocessors. U-boot is open source and supports one-time programmable memory (eFuses or OTP) on ARM-based processors. The U-Boot bootloader also supports a large number of chipsets, including ARM, AVR32, Blackfin, MicroBlaze, MIPS, PPC, and x86.

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