RoadTest: Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained
Evaluation Type: Evaluation Boards
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?: Raspberry Pi
What were the biggest problems encountered?: No step-by-step tutorial for very beginners
First of all I’m very grateful for an opportunity to test Xplained board – Thank you Christian, Element14 and Atmel.
Previously I have used Atmel AVR devices, Arduino boards, ARM microcontrollers (ex. STM32 solutions) and Raspberry Pi, so now let’s try something more interesting – SAMA5D3 device!
I decided to divide my review into 4 sections: Unboxing, Hardware, Software & documentation, Overall experience & Summary.
In a well-designed…
…and strong enough and safe box…
…inside antistatic bag…
…there is Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained board and micro-USB cable.
The most important element of the board is of course Atmel SAMA5D36 ARM Cortex-A5 Processor that can be running up to 536MHz. Please note that this is not a microcontroller, but much powerful device.
Nearby there are mounted 3 IC’s: 2 x 1 GB DDR3 RAM and 2GB NAND FLASH, what makes microprocessor system complete and ready to run. The amount of RAM memory is 4 times much as in Raspberry Pi. There is also SD/MMC slot and footprint for micro SD slot.
Through special connector we can connect external LCD module with touchpannel.
On the board there are 2 USB Host ports and 2 Ethernet ports (Gigabit and 100M). This is very interesting and unusual feature, that allows us to experiment with networking and even to build own router.
The most interesting connectors are Arduino MEGA compatible connectors – they enable us to connect directly to about 70 GPIO pins of the processor.
We also have access to 3,3V UART interface for debugging and accessing console. Other possibility to access the console is to use USB device port which is also being used to download data form computer to on-board memories using bootloader.
Hardware debugging is available via 20 pin JTAG connector.
The very good thing about the system is that it can start-up using code form different memories. Primary memory is NAND FLASH, when there is no valid application (or CS pin is disabled using JUMPER) SD memory card is checked (this is the way Raspberry Pi works) if still nothing to boot the SAM-BA Bootloader is being loaded.
The SAM-BA allows us to change contents of each on-board memory – it means we can upload our application without using any external tool.
On Atmel sites we can get full documentation of the board, including schematics and user guides as well as numerous bare-metal examples (examples that can be executed without operating system).
By default the board is running preloaded LINUX4SAM demo from NAND FLASH memory.
Numerous references will take us to documentation and guides of third party companies explaining how to run and compile LINUX4SAM and other operating systems.
Unfortunately there is no support by Atmel Studio for the SAMA5 family so we have to use different IDEs or even better switch to UNIX system when compiling applications for this board.
To sum up Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained board is a very powerful tool to start microprocessor software design.
A lot of RAM memory, two network interfaces and many GPIO pins makes this board ideal for very complex applications.
In my opinion the board lacks 2 features: video interface (like HDMI, VGA or even Composite) and audio output. Of course we can attach them using numerous GPIOs, but I would have been nice if this features were embedded.
Another important thing to say is, that this board is not for beginners in my opinion – if you want instantly to play with some software and not to go into details this board is not for you – better choose Raspberry Pi.
Now I am starting to develop a simple RTOS with my colleges so this board would be perfect tool to run such an application, which would be used for educational purposes at our university.
For me this board is really good tool and if I were to buy a microprocessor starter kit purposed to get into details of such systems I would buy SAMA5D3 Xplained.
I would recommend this board to all people a little bit experienced in microcontrollers and microprocessors. For them it will be a great and powerful tool for developing various applications.