Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained - Review

Table of contents

RoadTest: Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained

Author: toxxn

Creation date:

Evaluation Type: Independent Products

Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True

What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: Arduino, Beaglebone, Raspberry Pi, and more.

What were the biggest problems encountered?: Lack of display options.

Detailed Review:

First Impressions: 

Well, here we are, I finally received my first road test and have had some time to toy with it, the Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained Prototyping/ Development Board. Please bare with me as we delve into my very first review. Before I received the Xplained Board, I read up quite a bit about it to prepare myself for what was coming. I have experience with several prototyping/ dev Boards but nothing like this. I would like to thank Christian DeFeo, Element14, and Atmel for the chance to take part.

 

First off, the box is quite sturdy and beautiful. I know with a lot of people the box doesn't really matter, but as for myself, I like a good solid box with a decent design with my electronics. The inside of the box was also well padded and combined with the sturdiness of the box, I wouldn't worry a thing about your product being damaged in shipping.

When I first opened the box and saw the device, I was stunned. The Xplained is much bigger than I expected, albeit don't let the size deter you though, it is a very powerful device and with that said, the size is nothing to complain about. To get a good accurate visual comparison, I took a picture of the Xplained with my Raspberry Pi model B. (Pictured below)

 

The box contains the Xplained board,  a Micro-AB to typeA USB cable, and a welcome letter (More so a laminated card than a letter) that displays an overview of the features, compliance information, and a website you can go to to access the required software, a full user guide, technical documents, and a simple "getting started" guide.

 

The board feels extremely solid and well built. I have handled some electronics where I felt as if I had to baby it. That is not to say these other devices are not solid and well built,  I just simply don't feel as I have to pamper this board.

 

 

Raspberry Pi Model B (Above) - Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained (Below)

The numbers indicate increments of inches.

 

 

Features:

For those who are not yet familiar with the features of the Xplained, let's take a quick look at them before we delve into this any further.

  • SAMA5D36 Cortex-A5 Microprocessor
  • 2GBit DDR2 Ram (Micron)
  • 2GBit NAND Flash (Micron)
  • Duel Ethernet (1Gbps and 100Mbps)
  • USB Device Connector
  • Two USB Host connectors
  • Active Semi PMIC
  • Power measurement straps
  • 8-bit SD/MMCplus card slot
  • 4-bit Micro SDCard slot footprint
  • 6-lead 3.3v serial port
  • 10-pin J-TAG connector
  • Reset and startup push buttons
  • User configurable push button
  • General purpose LEDs
  • Arduino R3-compatible headers
  • Mounted LCD/ Camera connector

 

As you can see, this board comes jam packed with some awesome features that makes it a well rounded option for just about any project imaginable. This board also comes with a Linux distribution pre-installed making the Xplained ready to go right out of the box. Android is also compatible, although with the Cortex-A5 Microprocessor and 2GBbit of DDR2, I don't have a doubt in my mind that this would be capable of running just about any OS you threw at it.

 

General Purpose and Application:

Low power and high performance combined with the options and flexibility this offers makes this device more than fantastic option for any project. The imagination is the limit with this one. I tested the Xplained with several existing projects I had already, replacing the pre-existing brains, and it was more than enough performance to deal with everything I threw at it.

 

First off I messed with the existing pre-installed Linux distribution. It is a pretty basic OS with several apps, games, a web browser etc.

Straight out of the box the Xplained performed pretty well as a basic Linux computer.

 

Second, I replaced the brains in a couple of DIY LED Cube projects I had laying around. First with a simple 8x8 cube, then a 64x64 cube and finally with a 128x128 cube.

As expected the Xplained performed extremely well, although I feel the performance capability this provides is very much wasted in projects such as this. It never hurts to start off simple though.

 

Third, I tested it with a home automation project I started a couple weeks ago. I used a Wi-Fi dongle and installed Android to control some simple things around my house using my Nexus 7 Tablet. I haven't yet completed the project so I currently only had a few things to test such as lights, fans, garage door, etc. but the Xplained performed very well in this application as well.

 

Next up, I tested the Xplained by replacing the brains of my custom home data server. I store most of my photos, documents, codes, and more on two 1TB HDD's that I can access at any time via the internet with any of my internet enabled devices. The Gigabit Ethernet port of the Xplained worked very well for this particular application. I also used a Wi-Fi dongle to test, although the data transfer was much slower.

 

I wish I had some other projects prepared that I could test the Xplained with, however I just recently moved houses and I haven't fully set up my Electronics Lab yet. Although I don't have a doubt in my mind that the Xplained could be used in much more advanced projects such as robotics, advanced home automation, entertainment, etc.

There is a project I have had in mind for awhile however, that was inspired by another Element14 user that I believe the Xplained will be perfect for and I have no doubt that it will be more than enough to serve it's purpose. I will being posting frequent updates here on the Element14 Website, when I start this project  however for now, I would like to keep the project hush hush.

 

 

I would have to say the only thing I dislike is it's lack of video display options.

Although not necessary, I wish it had a Micro-HDMI connection at the very least. This would give it a little more flexibility for display options, and I believe there would be no problem implementing it into the current design. Who knows, maybe this will be an option Atmel will include later on.

 

All in all I am very pleased with the Xplained and how it performs. I cannot wait to test it with other applications and projects.  With it's compatibility with Arduino R3 components and its compatibility with a variety of OS's, it's an all-in-one device. The high performance alone is well worth it's price tag, but combined with its functionality and flexibility, I have to say, the Xplained is a must have. I highly recommend picking one up.

 

 

As a reminder, this is my first Road Test review so I can only hope that my review is sufficient enough for community standards.

I would also again like to thank Christian DeFeo, Element14, and Atmel for the chance to Road Test this product. I hope to Road Test more products in the future.

Anonymous
  • Hello Peter,

     

    Thank you for your comment. I apologize for a semi-late reply, I have been rather busy preparing for the holiday season as of late.

     

    I recently packed up the 128x128 cube to prepare it for shipping to a friend of mine as a Christmas Present. However I can tell you that I simply used the existing I/O pins and a male pin strip to interface the board to the cube then used bare metal C/C++ code instead of using an OS to control the LED's, both just as I would using an Arduino. In other words, I simply used the Xplained to mimic an Arduino. There are tons of tutorials on the web showing how to create a LED cube that also provide source codes for controlling the LED's.

     

    I am rather new with home automation, at least as far as doing it myself. My previous home had automation built in already so I could control most lights, fans, garage door, etc using an existing remote that came with the house. When I moved homes, my new home did not have such features, so to be completely honest , when I started this project I did it as a small side project to pass a little time and did so very simplistically. Simplicity allowed me to avoid messing with the 110 voltage of my homes switches since I have little knowledge as of right now with this particular subject. With it being simplistic also I did not have to use Pulse-width modulation for my lighting controls. I have also since scrapped the project until I research further into self home automation and have more time to devote to the project.

    As for as lighting and fan controls, my new home has dimmer switches in most rooms. Since I only had one Xplained board at the time compared to the multiple arduino's I have, I could only test this project one room at a time. Going back to the dimmer switches mentioned above, I simply used a servo motor to raise or lower the dimmer switches using the existing I/O pins on the board. I installed an Android distribution on the board so that I could communicate with board using my Tablet which also uses Android. Using a little C code, I could then use the tablet to communicate with the board using wifi and tell it to either raise or lower the servo accordingly thus raising or lowering the dimmer switches.

     

    I do not have any videos or pictures of either of these projects, and I apologize I did not think of this beforehand. I will keep this in mind however with future road tests so that I can provide a lot more information and visuals.

     

    Again, thank you for your comment and questions.

    Cory

  • Clem,

    When I first tested the board out of the box I used the existing updates of the "Poky" distribution and Version 1.5.1 of the Yocto.

     

    Cory

  • Can you please post video / pictures of the 128/128 cube with the board, I would love to re-produce that myself, what was used for interfacing to the LED cube

     

    Also, I am an enthusiast with home automation, can you also provide video / pictures and schematics on how you interfaced and controlled the circuits at home, what kind of isolation did you use, was PWM used for lighting control, if so I would love ot know how you got that working, i struggled for days trying toget the analog parts to work with no joy, but still would like to for my power supply control system

     

    Please post, thanks

    Peter

  • Cory,    Did you update the flash for the Yocto according to instructions?

     

    Thanks

    Clem