ARM announces two new Cortex-R series processors for real-time applications
February 01, 2011 // Phil Ling
Architectural enhancements are driven by software developers' needs, as the two additional cores to the R series add greater support for dual-core configurations and target applications that demand high performance with real-time response. It boosts the number of cores in the R series to three, sitting alongside the company's complementary Cortex-M and Cortex-A series.
Delivering sustainable real-time performance using ever-faster processors, while ensuring binary compatibility across a growing number of platforms, presents significant architectural challenges.
ARM believes its Cortex family, which encompasses the A series (for Applications), the M series (for Microcontroller) and the sometimes overlooked R series (for Real Time) delivers the binary compatibility, but it is the R series that addresses the demands of applications that require high performance with real time response.
The first and, until now, only Cortex-R processor, the R4, has been in the market since 2006 and although its profile isn't as high as the Cortex-M and Cortex-A series, ARM maintains it is prevalent in mobile applications as well as disk drive technology, while Texas Instruments uses an R4 core in one of its high-end microcontroller devices. In fact, ARM claims that in many ways the Cortex-M4 is almost identical to the Cortex-R4, although the R4 offers up to twice the raw 'binary' performance.
More importantly, ARM's research shows that the R4's use in these applications is often in a dual-core configuration, forcing the licensee to implement cache coherency and multicore support, two of the main enhancements ARM has added to the latest Cortex-R cores, the R5 and the R7.
While the R5 offers about the same processing power as the R4, it is these architectural enhancements to support the core that deliver the benefits, in the form of simpler firmware development. This, in turn, frees up processor cycles that can be 'spent' elsewhere.
ARM stated that the majority of its core developments are now driven by the needs of software engineers, which now outnumber hardware engineers. While the Cortex-M series cores are 'naturally' real-time, the demands of the applications targeted by the R series demand more sophisticated features to maintain the real-time performance; the M4 is designed to run at around 150MHz, while the R7 can run at up to 1GHz.
The R7 adds all the architectural features of the R5 and pushes their performance even higher, according to ARM. In addition to the dual-core support, both the R5 and R7 will be available in single- and dual-core versions using the company's existing MPCore technology, which has been re-implemented for the R series.
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