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Monday, October 01, 2018
Arm Expands Design Possibilities with Cortex-M Processors for Xilinx FPGAs

Arm is collaborating with Xilinx, the market leader in FPGAs, to bring Arm Cortex-M processors to FPGA through the Arm DesignStart program, providing scalability and a standardized processor architecture across the Xilinx portfolio.

Announced today at the Xilinx Developer Forum in San Jose, the program gives embedded developers no cost access to soft processor IP, easy design integration with Xilinx tools and software development solutions to accelerate success on FPGA.

Designers can choose from a spectrum of options by considering factors such as design requirements, budget, resource availability and time-to-market. Options include SBCs, off-the-shelf chips, FPGAs and custom silicon. By choosing Arm for FPGA, designers get access to Cortex-M1 (an FPGA-optimized version of the Cortex-M0 processor) and Cortex-M3 soft processor IP for FPGA integration with Xilinx products - all for no license fee and no royalties.

Arm says that integration is easy with Xilinx system and peripheral IP through Vivado Design Suite, using a drag-and-drop design approach to create FPGA systems with Cortex-M processors.

Designers also gain access to a software ecosystem and knowledge base of others designing on Arm, which includes Arm Keil MDK, a full-featured software development suite for Arm-based microcontrollers.

All Cortex-M processors have 32-bit processing capability. Cortex-M1 is very similar to a Cortex-M0 processor, but optimized for implementation on FPGA. Cortex-M1 implements the Armv6-M architecture, using a relatively small subset of the Arm Thumb instruction set. In Armv6-M, the instruction opcodes are almost all 16-bit in size, with a few double-opcode instructions of 32-bit. This processor is ideal when you need minimal area, while still having a good performance point. When the Cortex-M1 is implemented inside the Digilent Arty A7 board, it can reach a peak frequency of 100MHz.

The Cortex-M3 has been built to have a balance between performance and efficiency. Its Armv7-M instruction set is a superset of Armv6-M and includes more 32-bit opcodes to provide more computing capability per cycle. In SoC applications, its balance of power, performance and area has made it widely applicable across a vast range of applications and consequently supported by a vast ecosystem of tools and users. The processor can reach a peak frequency of 50MHz when implemented inside the Digilent Arty A7 board. This is a typical frequency for Cortex-M3 based MCU.

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