The folks at Xilinx have announced their latest generation of embedded processing solutions, which – they say – "Provide design teams with enhanced system level performance, expanded flexibility, and increased design environment productivity covering a broad range of applications."
Although it might not be quite the "New Era of Configurable Computing" trumpeted in its press release, Xilinx have still made significant strides that are well worth looking at.
Enhanced CoreConnect Processor Local Bus (PLB)
Before we look at the "cream on the cake", let's first consider the underlying architectural enhancements. The mainstay of the architecture is the Processor Local Bus (PLB), which is a component of the IBM CoreConnect bus standard.
The underlying PLB architecture has been enhanced to support scaling from 32, 64, and 128-bit interfaces to give designers more flexibility and performance that can be applied to current system designs while providing plenty of headroom for future designs.
Optimized for an FPGA implementation, the PLB can also be configured for both shared and point-to-point connections to memory controllers, enabling customers to make design tradeoffs based on area, performance or future requirements. The higher performance and more flexible interconnect also supports full duplex DMA engines and a simpler bus hierarchy for easier IP core design.
New MicroBlaze V7.0
In hindsight, the first incarnation of the MicroBlaze 32-bit soft processor core (circa 2001) was a rather rudimentary affair. Boasting a pipeline depth of three, local memory support up to 64 KB, and an optional multiplier/barrel shifter, MicroBlaze V1.00 had a maximum integer performance of only 82 DMIPS.
Over time, new generations of the processor were augmented with an optional divider, an optional (FSL) coprocessor interface, configurable instruction and data caches, a cache interface, and a floating point unit.
Now, in addition to all of the above, MicroBlaze V7.00 boasts a configurable Memory Management Unit (MMU) that enables commercial-grade operating system (OS) support. This little scamp supports advanced features such as address translation for virtual memory support and a MPU mode for region protection for secure RTOS applications. In support of these spiffy memory management capabilities, LynuxWorks has announced that its BlueCat Linux v2.6 supports the MicroBlaze processor.
Xilinx has also included new instructions to boost performance of the configurable MicroBlaze processor's tightly-coupled Floating-Point Unit (FPU). All of these new features are pre-built, verified and ready to use with configuration options that enable developers to customize the processor features as required.
Supporting development environment
Xilinx's Platform Studio (XPS) provides a common, fully integrated hardware/software development environment that supports the complete range of Xilinx possessing solutions. Included in the EDK, the scalable XPS enables designers to easily develop, integrate and debug their entire embedded system.
The EDK is Xilinx's embedded development solution that includes the XPS tool suite, the MicroBlaze processor, a library of peripheral IP cores, an integrated software development environment based on the Eclipse framework, GNU compiler, debugger, and other tools for a wide range of applications.
For example, with the availability of IP cores for the CAN, MOST, and Flexray communication standards, on top of the Linux support, Xilinx say they are able to deliver development kits, reference designs, and other development resources that meet the specific needs of developers working on automotive electronic systems. Other market areas of focus for Xilinx Embedded Processing Solutions include: wired and wireless communications, industrial, and military – all areas where Linux is being widely adopted.
Upgraded MicroBlaze Development Kit
The upgraded MicroBlaze Development Kit, Spartan-3E 1600E FPGA Edition features an embedded Spartan-3E 1600 FPGA board with a MicroBlaze soft processor and a complete embedded development suite for customers to get started easily.
Pricing and availability
The EDK 9.2 release is immediately available for USD $495, and includes the MicroBlaze v7 processor core, XPS 9.2 tool suite with processing IP libraries, software drivers, documentation, and reference design examples.
XPS 9.2 supports MicroBlaze and PowerPC processing design for Virtex-5, Virtex-4, Virtex-II Pro, and Spartan-3 FGPAs. XPS 9.2 supports a broad range of computing platforms, including Windows XP (32-bit) SP1, SP2, Linux Red Hat Enterprise (32-bit 5.0 & 4.0, 64-bit 5.0) as well as Solaris 9 (2.9/5.9). The MicroBlaze Development Kit, Spartan-3E 1600E FPGA Edition is available now for USD $595. For more information, please visit www.xilinx.com/processors.
For Embedded Linux development, BlueCat Linux MicroBlaze Edition is available now from LynuxWorks (Click Here for more information).