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Cool PolarFire® SoC FPGA Based System On Modules by ARIES Embedded

ARIES Embedded has created the M100PFS module based on the PolarFire SoC FPGA architecture by Microchip, combining high-performance 64-bit RISC-V cores with FPGA technology.

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are known for their flexibility and reconfigurability, making them suitable for a wide range of applications. However, they are also regarded as particularly power-consuming, which limits their possible applications in the embedded market. PolarFire® System-on-Chip (SoC) FPGAs are made with Flash-based technology and consume 50% lower power than competition SRAM technology-based FPGAs in the market, which makes them suitable for low-power applications. ARIES Embedded created the M100PFS module based on the PolarFire SoC FPGA architecture by Microchip and combines high-performance 64-bit RISC-V cores with outstanding FPGA technology. This module is very much suited for smart embedded vision, industrial automation, communication and Internet of Things (IoT) applications. PolarFire SoC refers to an integrated circuit that combines various components and subsystems onto a single chip. With their high integration density, SoCs facilitate the creation of compact embedded systems. An SoC aims to provide a complete system solution on a chip, reducing the need for external components and simplifying system design. It reduces the development difficulty and increases the stability and maintainability of the system. Various carrier boards can be customized based on it, further improving development efficiency.

For fast development and creation of prototypes, module manufacturers supply reference designs to create such carrier and developer boards with extensive peripheral functions. In some cases, these developer boards may also be used for prototypes and small-scale applications until the respective individual carrier board is ready for serial production.

The Expedient Use of FPGAs for Embedded Applications

As the name FPGA (“Field Programmable Gate Array”) already suggests, it is a digital circuit that can be programmed “in the field.” Simply put, digital systems can be described as a structure in a description language and can then be directly implemented as a signal path. This allows for high flexibility and faster process times as well as for less latencies compared to the implementation of an algorithm as a program on a microcontroller. FPGAs are therefore particularly suitable for fast and complex arithmetic as well as for any type of parallel processing and AI implementations such as neuronal networks. Typical embedded applications for FPGAs are all kinds of fast signal processing such as image processing and fast control systems for avionics, robotics and machine controls—particularly if it is about “hard” real-time controls. Further applications are measurement technology and analytics; in these fields, FPGAs provide an easy and efficient technology to directly implement DSPs and complex transformations “on a chip.” As such devices will normally be in use for decades, subsequent updates with new methods and procedures of signal processing without the loss of speed of a pure software implementation is an invaluable benefit—especially if these are used in places difficult to access, such as satellites in space.

Further specifically embedded requirements include a compact design and utmost reliability, availability and safety for a continuous operation 24 hours and 7 days a week. Also, low energy consumption (passive cooling, battery operation), high robustness and environmental compatibility can often be added.

Alliance of Energy Savers: RISC-V and PolarFire Family

The modular solutions by ARIES Embedded presented herein meet all these challenges issued by the embedded market. The scalable PolarFire RISC-V SOC-FPGAs of the MPFS family by Microchip is the heart of this M100PFS module. They combine the energy-saving FPGAs of the PolarFire family—scalable from 23k to 254k LE (logical elements) and 68 to 768 math blocks, as well as 4 to 16 12.5 Gbps SERDES-Transceivers—with a microprocessor subsystem (MSS) with five extremely energy-saving RISC-V 64-bit CPU cores with a clock rate of 625 MHz. One E51 core thereof is designed as a monitor core with a safe boot; four U54 cores are used as application cores for either Linux or real-time applications. Microchip’s MPFS family is the first SoC FPGA with a deterministic and coherent RISC-V CPU cluster and a deterministic L2 memory sub-system to create both Linux and real-time applications, as well as with an integrated (LP)DDR3/4 controller. It consumes up to 50% less energy than alternative midrange FPGAs due to a very low static consumption, a low input voltage and energy-saving drivers.

Convincing Features

In addition to the specified abilities for asymmetric multi-processing (AMP) with parallel real-time/Linux applications, the SoCs also meet the utmost safety and security requirements (“military demands”). For example, they are equipped with a single-error correction and a double-error detection (SECDED) in the FPGA LSRAMS and all processor memories, with a 56 kB secure non-volatile memory (sNVM) and with an integrated double Physically Unclonable Function (PUF).

The M100PFS module itself has a size of only 74x42mm² and is connected to the carrier board with two 180 pins Samtec QSH-090 board-to-board connectors. Depending on the configuration it has the following features:

128kB embedded boot flash (eNVM), up to 4 GB DDR4 SDRAM for the FPGA as well as up to 8 GB DDR4 SDRAM, up to 32 Mbit NOR flash and up to 64 GB eMMC flash for the MSS. For further structural details please see the block diagram of the module in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1: Block diagram M100PFS SoM

With the M100PFSEVP as the development board shown in figure 3, ARIES Embedded provides a serial reference or carrier board with an extensive interface configuration sized 160x135 mm²:

  • 2x Gigabit Ethernet

  • USB

  • 2x UART

  • 2x CAN

  • TFT connector (including capacitive touch)

  • HSMC extension connector

  • 3x Pmod (peripheral module) extension connectors

  • microSD card slot

Access to the transceiver of the FPGAs is realized through the High-Speed Mezzanine Card (HSMC) interface; suitable HSMC cards open up further options. Using the three Pmod slots, a variety of standard Digilent Pmod-compatible periphery modules can be connected. The spectrum ranges from a Bluetooth BLE interface and different serial interfaces to a complete camera module.

Figure 3: M100PFSEVP prototype setup

Figure 3 shows an exemplary structure of components for which a fully functional prototype was developed based on the M100PFSEVP evaluation kit. According to the technical requirements, an additional board was inserted between the evaluation kit and the SoC-FPGA module, providing two wireless modems in a M2 form factor. In the next development step, the successfully implemented functions of the prototype were merged on the mentioned base board which, together with the M100PFS module, composes the core of the customer device.

The RISC-V Ecosystem Grants Additional Benefits

Microchip provides substantial development tools and libraries for the PolarFire SoC FPGAs. The Mi-V RISC-V ecosystem is a continuously growing comprehensive suite of tools and design resources developed by Microchip and other providers to fully support the RISC-V designs. It is the purpose of the Mi-V ecosystem to expand the acceptability of the RISC-V architecture and the PolarFire SoC FPGA and the RISC-V Soft-CPU by Microchip.

Furthermore, this ecosystem by Microchip and its partners also provides ready-to-use IP blocks and libraries for the PolarFire FPGAs.

A Wide Range for an Easy Start

With the M100PFSEVP reference board, ARIES Embedded not only supplies the M100PFS module in various configurations but also a sophisticated development system or carrier board, respectively. With its compact dimensions of just 160x135mm and its extensive interfaces and extension options, it is also very well suited for prototype and small-scale applications. Beginners and experts alike will receive a ready-to-use and functioning platform that only has to be configured.

It mainly is a platform whose characteristics are well suited for embedded applications: compact dimensions, low energy consumption and a high efficiency not only in operation but also during a fast system start. For demanding projects, the German manufacturer ARIES Embedded provides direct support and services at all FPGA and system development levels. This not only comprises a wide range of ready-to-use tailored solutions (IP) and libraries or building blocks for the most versatile applications but also classic user support for the development and commissioning of a system. Furthermore, customized carrier boards and FPGA modules (optionally without integrated RISC-V MSS and with other external CPUs) can be implemented as contract development services.

High Flexibility Allows for a Great Deal of Applications

FPGAs are an ideal solution for a wide range of markets and applications. They are suitable to supply cost-efficient one-chip solutions for applications on the control level or in the data path.

Practical fields of application are to be found in the following target markets: intelligent image processing inclusive AI and machine learning (ML), safe industrial automation from intelligent machine controls to robotics, communication and IoT including highly efficient edge-computing as well as signal processing and measurement technology. The PolarFire FPGA-based systems provide a smart performance with low energy consumption. This not only allows for fan-free operation and mobile use but also reduces both the carbon footprint and the operating costs.

Want More?

Please visit our ARIES Embedded web page to learn more about our PolarFire SoMs. Choose your ideal development platform and start your FPGA project now. The team at ARIES Embedded is looking forward to supporting your embedded project!

Andreas Widder, Aug 29, 2023

Tags/Keywords: Industrial and IoT

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