Atmel (and ARM) announced yesterday that Atmel has licensed a portfolio of ARM IP for devices that require video, image and display capabilities. This portfolio includes Cortex-A7 (a 32-bit core), Mali-V500 (a video accelerator), Mali-DP500 (a display processor) and TrustZone technology (security technology). These can now be used to create devices for the Internet of Things (IoT) especially wearable devices, toy and other tasks that rely on image processing. Cortex-A7 is the most energy-efficient of ARM’s microprocessors ever.
Of course this isn’t the first license that Atmel has taken out from ARM. They have a full-llne of ARM-based microcontrollers that complements their own AVR processors. According to the Atmel Microcontroller Selector Product Finder, there are 217 of them from Cortex-M0 up to Cortex-A5. So this announcement adds graphics capabiity, the higher-end Cortex-A7 and ARM’s security technology that is a mixture of hardware-based and software-based.
The energy efficiency and small die area advantages of ARM Mali-V500 and Mali-DP500 enables full HD 1080p60 resolution capabilities on a single core, which is ideally suited for cost-conscious applications. Additionally, both the ARM Mali-V500 and Mali-DP500 incorporate support for ARM TrustZone technology for hardware-backed content security from download to display.
Mali has been very successful in mobile and is currently ranked #1 in the GPUs in Android devices (Apple uses Imagination Technologies GPU, 40 miles up the road from Cambridge in King’s Lynn. Must be some processor design hormones in the water in East Anglia or something).
As Reza Kazerounian, senior vice president and general manager, microcontroller business unit at Atmel said:As IoT and wearable devices become smaller, more sophisticated and integrated, the SoCs used in the devices will need to offer more features and functionality in smaller packages. The small area footprint of the ARM Cortex and Mali multimedia solutions will allow us to offer HD video and display processing in unprecedented sizes.
With Mali-DP500, Atmel SoCs will have the capability to deliver UI functionality such as multi-layer composition, scaling and post-processing with support from ARM’s Frame Buffer Compression (AFBC) protocol. This technology is unique to ARM and is capable of delivering a 60 percent reduction in system bandwidth for video playback.
One of the big challenges that IoT is going to face as the market grows is implementing very strong security with a comparatively limited amount of processor and battery power to do it. It is not the end of the world if somebody breaks into my FitBit and finds out that I only took 5000 steps today. But nobody wants their car or their heart-pacemaker hi-jacked by the bad guys. Pure software solutions are both too power hungry and less provably secure than a hybrid approach like ARM’s TrustZone.