XMOS' xCORE-XA blends multi-core MCU, ARM core and low-power operation

October 24, 2013 // By Graham Prophet
Fabless multi-core microcontroller maker XMOS is aiming to tap into the ARM world, with its resource of existing software and embedded applications code: and to take its technology into the low-power, battery-powered arena – in one move, with the introduction of its xCORE-XA (for “extended architecture”) devices.

XMOS has concluded a deal with ARM to add a Cortex-M3 core into its multi-(virtual)-core archtitecure: and with Silicon Labs/Energy Micro to bring in some of the “energy-friendly” techniques used in that company's Gecko chip series.

Initial offering will be a multi-chip package with two dice, a 7-core xCore device and a low-power Silicon Labs contribution that will add resources such as Silabs' low-power peripherals and autonomous peripheral-peripheral channel that allows many functions to complete without waking a central processor. The xCore part of the solution is a single-physical-core device that would normally run eight of XMOS' virtual cores, with one of the eight “slots” now devoted to the ARM core which will connect into the architecture via an AHB channel.

With this device, according to XMOS CEO Nigel Toon, you will be able to create a configurable system-on-chip for an embedded applications, that you can program entirely in C, with multicore capability and at low-power. XMOS presents its existing xCore devices as occupying a gap between conventional MCUs and FPGA-based designs; now it adds low-power to that equation. Toon asserts that FPGAs have developed to offer great flexibility, but with little focus on low-power. He says the XA will have five power modes, drawing on the multiple levels that Silabs/EM products offer, with the lowest offering as little as 100 nA in standby. It requires less than 1 µA to run the integrated real-time clock and 32 kHz peripherals, for fast turn-on and time-polled operation. Differentiating factors will be XMOS' deterministic attributes; the types of peripherals on offer, which will include dual Ethernet ports and the option of USB, with the ability to run sophisticated functions such as motor controls, using separate cores.

ARM, in the person of Nandan Nayampally, vice president, Application Systems Marketing, ARM endorses the concept; “ARM believes that xCORE-XA represents a significant step forward for embedded systems, allowing engineers to create an integrated SoC