New RZ Family Debuts: Powerful Processors Built Around an Arm CPU

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Processor Technology Advances! New RZ Family Enables Design Breakthroughs in Next-generation Embedded Systems for the Smart Society

Innovative consumer, business and industrial products are accelerating the spread of "smart" technology. And demand is growing for full-featured HMI (human-machine interface) capability in automotive infotainment systems, medical equipment, industrial control systems and many other types of embedded systems. Next-generation designs for such products mandate top-end processors with more features and expanded data-handling capabilities—requirements Renesas now meets with new processors we have created and technically support: our RZ family, advanced chips based on the proven Arm® Cortex™-A9 CPU. These premium embedded-system design solutions combine and leverage our leading-edge processing and circuit design capabilities with those of Arm Ltd. They offer unprecedented features and have generated high industry praise for providing the functions and performance needed to handle advanced applications requiring much greater amounts of data processing.

This story highlights the RZ/A1 group, the outstanding system solutions that launch the exciting RZ product line. Running power-efficiently at up to 400MHz, RZ/A1 chips provide potent computational performance and have industry-leading amounts of on-chip RAM: up to 10MB. Especially, they eliminate the need for external DRAM ICs in systems with display panels up to WXGA (1280x768) resolution that show impressive graphics and animation. System makers benefit, too, because RZ/A1 processors save cost, power and system development time.

An ongoing system-design challenge:
Finding better high-end chips to meet difficult implementation requirements

The steadily advancing global march toward the electronics-based 'smart society' derives from beneficial embedded-system type products that reliably deliver safe, personalized, interconnected and environment-friendly services. Legions of embedded-system engineers are working to create attractive, effective new designs that do more yet are easier to use. Typical design goals include implementations that use less power while achieving fast, precise application performance. For high-end products, personalized operation, extensive and seamless networking capabilities, and large, 'friendly', high-resolution human-machine interfaces (HMIs) are sought. Engineering teams generally are challenged in their efforts, however, by the limitations of available processors.

The complexity of many of today's design projects necessitates a paradigm shift in the way electronic control solutions are created. Until recently, the first task of a system design team was to simply to select the processor that would best fulfill the target specifications for performance and functionality, and then connect other system elements to that device. Today, though, for sophisticated products competing fiercely in vibrant global markets, the chip selection process has become more complicated. It's now essential that important new issues be considered in the search for the optimum processor.

In particular, the processor chosen for a high-end system has to combine powerful computing performance with large storage for programs and data. Additional requirements are likely to include ample connectivity functions and the ability to support an intuitive, informative and highly detailed graphical user interface. Other processor selection criteria include traditional issues such as cost, development support and manufacturing advantages, all of which have grown more important as the pace of change in electronic markets has quickened.

Some engineers, though, still prefer to approach the system design challenge in the conventional way—by first selecting the appropriate MCU and then adding external memory and peripheral circuitry. Yet that method is increasingly ineffective. External circuitry takes time to develop and takes up valuable circuit board space, undermining critical deadline, bill-of-material and product form-factor objectives.

Moreover, the traditional approach tends to overlook major advantages of processors built with the latest semiconductor technology. Extraordinary processor ICs are now available that add new meaning to the term 'optimum'.

Renesas RZ processors for embedded systems:
Offering massive computing capabilities, huge on-chip RAM, advanced peripherals

Semiconductor technology steadily advances, often by leaps and bounds. Renesas is a leading global supplier of processors for all types of embedded system applications, from basic control tasks to very intelligent ones. Heavy R&D investments keep our circuit techniques and process technology at the forefront of the industry's progress. Because our vast customer base expects quality and performance, we deliver highly reliable components in high volumes, chips that meet or exceed their evolving system design requirements.

A prime example of our expertise—and the solution to the system design dilemma described above for top-end electronic products—is the new RZ family of microprocessors (see Figure 1). Based on powerful Arm® Cortex™-A9 CPUs and integrating large memory arrays and proven high-performance peripheral functions, they are today's best choices for the next-generation products destined to be at the forefront of implementations of the smart society in countries around the world.

Each chip in our new RZ product line delivers three essential features: strong computing power, large internal memory, and the well-proven quality, reliability and overall excellence long demonstrated by every Renesas processor and microcontroller. These features make RZ processors ideal solutions for automotive, consumer, industrial, and medical applications, among a vast array of other market opportunities.

The RZ family. The new RZ chips combine powerful computing execution with large on-chip memory arrays and optimized sets of peripheral functions.

Figure 1: The RZ family. The new RZ chips combine powerful computing execution with large on-chip memory arrays and optimized sets of peripheral functions. They expanding Renesas' popular portfolio of MPUs and MCUs and advance it to new heights of performance and design potential. These breakthrough processors simplify user-friendly, highly capable embedded systems, while also reducing costs and especially facilitating the rapid development of products requiring greater data-processing capabilities.

High-throughput, power-efficient CPU:
Taking advantage of Arm's Cortex-A9 core and support ecosystem

A team of expert Renesas technologists selected the Arm Cortex-A9 CPU primarily because this proven core delivers high digital processing performance with excellent power efficiency. Among its architectural features are a dual-issue superscalar, out-of-order, speculating dynamic-length pipeline that maximizes instruction execution speed to boost application response.

Moreover, our Cortex-A9 CPU selection benefitted from the firm foundation of a successful business relationship previously established with Arm. Thereafter we expanded our collaboration in developing the Renesas RZ processor family. Simultaneously, we partnered with the large international community of Arm-oriented hardware/software development tool suppliers and design/manufacturing service providers. That extensive support ecosystem helps customers speed up and reduce the cost of creating RZ-based embedded systems.

The RZ/A processor series:
Enabling next-generation embedded systems to achieve exceptional multifunction performance

On June 20, 2013 Renesas announced the first members of the RZ family—the devices in the RZ/A series. This product line primarily targets the growing numbers of products, equipment and systems that have advanced human-machine interfaces. Initially there are 15 models in three RZ/A1 product groups:

  • RZ/A1H devices, providing 10MB of internal RAM
  • RZ/A1M devices, offering 5MB of RAM
  • RZ/A1L chips, integrating 3MB of RAM

Engineers building embedded systems for global markets have wArmly welcomed the processors in the RZ/A1 group. Favorable comments mostly center on the new chips' fast speed, formidable computational performance, on-chip peripherals and outstanding amounts of on-chip RAM. There is a general consensus that RZ/A1 group processors have strong advantages for incorporating better-looking, more intuitive HMIs into next-generation multifunction embedded systems.

From a system design perspective, major features of the RZ/A1 product group are spotlighted below:

High clock speed for fast code execution

Renesas has deep knowledge and experience with Arm technology, having integrated more than 800 million Arm cores onto our embedded-system solutions to date. Additionally, we fully appreciate the outstanding performance potential of the architecture of the Cortex-A9 CPU.

Using this technical insight and applying our semiconductor processing expertise, we have developed an original leading-edge fabrication process with which we are now producing RZ chips integrating that CPU. This has allowed us to successfully raise the maximum operating speed of RZ/A1 devices to 400 MHz—a full 50% faster than that of our 266MHz SH7268 and SH7269 SuperH™ processors (see Figure 2).

The new RZ/A1 chips' combination of a very fast clock speed and the multiple-bus Arm CPU architecture enables seriously high-speed memory accesses. The resulting impressive data processing performance is absolutely essential for many next-generation high-end embedded-system applications.

Top operating speeds of SuperH and RZ/A1 processors.

Figure 2: Top operating speeds of SuperH and RZ/A1 processors. To gain a 50% speed advantage, Renesas semiconductor technology experts developed an improved fabrication process that readily handles the speedy operations of the digital circuits in the Cortex-A9 CPU. System engineers can use the faster application execution thus obtained to great advantage.

Exceptionally large internal memory for rapid processing

Because RZ/A1 processors contain up to 10MB of on-chip RAM, they are excellent choices for embedded systems that must store and process large quantities of data. When used as a frame buffer, for instance, RZ/A1H chips can hold up to two frames of full-color 32-bit, 1280x768 WXGA color video, without using external memory.

Several important operational benefits accrue by making the large RAM array internal to the processor. First, the CPU can utilize its high-speed multi-layer internal buses to access memory contents very quickly. Computations execute more rapidly because data fetches cause fewer processing delays. And of course, the internal RAM eliminates the expense of buying external memory chips and providing board space for them. Power consumption and electromagnetic noise (EMI) are reduced, as well.

Significantly, the large built-in RAM also eliminates system makers' concerns about the fluctuations in price, supply, and technical standards they would otherwise encounter when putting general-purpose PC memory chips on the system circuit boards.

Full range of functionalities for BOM simplification

The more on-chip peripheral functions a processor has, the fewer external support chips are necessary and the shorter a system's bill of material (BOM) becomes. RZ/A1 processors take advantage of and build upon the extensive span of functions Renesas engineers have developed for the SH7260-series chips now widely used in current HMI applications.

Our deep experience and proven track record with the latest peripheral functions lets us offer RZ processors with a broad range of functionalities. For example, RZ/A1 group processors include an on-chip OpenVG1.1-compliant 2D graphics accelerator and video-in/video-out circuits. The devices also incorporate a USB 2.0 host/function interface for fast communication with hard disks and USB sticks, and they provide an SD/MMC interface for interfacing to SD cards. A built-in 10/100 Ethernet MAC enables network connectivity (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Extensive functionality for system simplification.

Figure 3: Extensive functionality for system simplification. The many peripheral functions and large RAM built into RZ/A1 processors enable enhanced display-system support and reduce manufacturing costs. Additional system design benefits include reduced EMI, power savings, and smaller circuit boards.

Production of RZ/A1 processors is underway and customers have received samples of RZ/A1H and RZ/A1L processors. We plan to ship sample RZ/A1M chips in the fourth quarter. Mass production of RZ-A1-series devices is expected to begin in fiscal 2014.

The Renesas and Arm collaboration:
Working together to deliver a comprehensive system support ecosystem

As previously mentioned, Renesas and Arm have bolstered our already solid association with the many Cortext-A9 development tool vendors that support our SuperH processor family. That robust support ecosystem includes Altia, Express Logic, Green Hills Software, Micrium and dozens more embedded-system hardware and software experts. Those firms deliver high-value products to system developers all over the world and they have begun releasing hardware and software development tools for the RZ/A series.

A key RZ software development tool is a tailored version of the Cortex-M, RTX CMSIS-RTOS (1) developed jointly by Renesas and Arm. This fine-tuned real-time operating system makes it easy to boost system performance simply by porting code developed for Cortex-M processors to our new RZ chips.

On the hardware side of system development, the GENMAI CPU board (see Figure 4) allows engineers to run code for evaluating the performance of a 400MHz RZ/A1H processor that includes a 10MB RAM.

Figure 4: GENMAI CPU board. Built with a 400MHz, 324-pin RZ/A1H chip, this Renesas hardware development tool facilitates evaluations of processor performance and functionality. Option boards make it possible to analyze and test on-chip peripheral functions.

Figure 4: GENMAI CPU board. Built with a 400MHz, 324-pin RZ/A1H chip, this Renesas hardware development tool facilitates evaluations of processor performance and functionality. Option boards make it possible to analyze and test on-chip peripheral functions.

Leveraging our long-standing and still deepening collaboration, Renesas and Arm have also worked together to develop the new RZ/A1 DS-5™ Starter Kit. This Arm-original software development tool comprises a compiler, a debugger, and the royalty-free CMSIS-RTOS RTX *1 real-time operating system. It is ideal for early-phase evaluation of RZ/A series processors, providing full evaluation and design functionality for one year at no charge.

System-engineering teams will see announcements of many new RZ development environments, operating systems, middleware, and board products in the coming months. Meanwhile, steady development of additional devices in this microprocessor family will continue. Renesas' technology roadmap includes, for example, the RZ/N series. As Figure 2 indicates, that product line aims primarily at applications requiring high levels of IT networking capability.

Click here for more details on the RZ/A series processors, including a product selector guide.

*1 CMSIS-RTOS RTX: This popular real-time OS is used on the Cortex-M, the low-end CPU series in the Cortex family. Renesas and Arm have successfully co-developed an enhanced version of this OS that takes advantage of the features of the high-end Cortex-A CPU—the first time this has been accomplished. The new, more capable RTOS allows easy porting of Cortex-M software assets to embedded systems that apply our RZ/A series processors. It cuts development time and cost for new designs and performance upgrades.

Arm, Cortex, and DS-5 are trademarks or registered trademarks of Arm Limited. All other product names and service names mentioned herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.