ARM Licenses Cortex-A5 on the Cheap

Article By : Nitin Dahad, EE Times

One-year license now $75,000, aimed at gaining market shares in IoT applications

LONDON — Arm is now offer a low-cost route to developing Cortex-A5 based Linux-capable ASICs for embedded Internet of Things (IoT) devices featuring advanced edge processing, with a new one-year license fee of $75,000. This fee provides access to the CPU IP and one year of design support, through Arm’s DesignStart program.

Arm says it is offering the lower cost license in response to the developer community requesting easy access to a Linux-capable Arm processor. A 2017 EETimes study on embedded markets revealed that 82% of developers were considering using Linux or Android in their next design.

Phil Burr, Arm’s director of portfolio product management, told EETimes that the addition of Cortex-A5 to DesignStart makes it much easier to create an ASIC and unlock the world of Linux on Arm to many developers. “We’re broadening our access generally to companies who want to develop embedded Linux,” Burr said.

Hence the Cortex-A5 processor can now be easily accessed through a web portal and a simplified contract, enabling rapid system-on-chip development with a scalable and configurable Armv7-A processor.

The announcement coincides with Arm’s Tech Symposia, which kicks off in China Monday and continues in Taiwan, Korea, India and Japan over the next few weeks. Commenting on the reason for its launch coinciding with the China event rather than at TechCon last week, Burr told EE Times that over 40% of licensees for its Cortex-M0 and Cortex-M3 under its DesignStart program are from China, so it’s an important market. However, he told us that the licenses would be sold under Arm global rather than its China joint venture.

ARM Cortex A5

By adding the Cortex-A5 to DesignStart, Arm says designers also have access to a large ecosystem and foundation upon which they can build their products. The processor’s small footprint (<0.3mm2 when implemented on a 40nm process) and ultra-high efficiency (~100uW/MHz active power when implemented on a 40nm process) allows for reduced fabrication costs and the lowest idle power among Cortex-A CPUs. The Cortex-A5 provides between 70% and 80% of the performance of Cortex-A7, Cortex-A9, and Cortex-A32 processors. It can be configured as a fully coherent quad-core design with advanced SIMD data processing, and a high-performance accelerator port for fast connection to machine learning or other custom processors.

Arm says it has shipped more than 2 billion units of Cortex-A5, in process nodes from 180nm to 7nm. The company says the processor will also enable advanced machine learning applications with Arm’s neural network inference engine, which is part of Linaro’s machine learning initiative.

Arm is keen to emphasize that it’s not just low-cost access that it’s providing by offering the processor through DesignStart. As Burr told us previously when announcing it was eliminating license fees and royalties for its Cortex-M processors on Xilinx FPGAs, software costs far outweigh hardware costs in system development. Hence there is also a positive impact on project timescales and software development costs from the many ready-to-run operating systems, middleware, codec and applications on Arm.

In addition to the one-year $75,000 license, Arm is also offering an option for three years support at $150,000. When ready to tape out a custom chip, Arm charges a $50,000 IP tape-out fee — bringing the total cost of the one-year license to $125,000.

Burr told us that this cost for the system IP and support is far less than the cost of an engineer, making it a low-cost route to developing a Linux capable Arm based ASIC for startups who may not have had the resources to develop a chip otherwise. The design platforms are supported by 18 foundry partners with process technology ranging from 250nm to 5nm.

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