PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit with Antmicro’s HDMI board


Topics: Open FPGA, Open hardware

The PolarFire SoC from our partner Microchip is the first mass-market Linux-capable implementation of RISC-V and the early access release of the Icicle development kit is huge news in the RISC-V world. Although this exciting 4+1 core FPGA SoC is becoming physically available only now, we have been collaborating with Microchip (then Microsemi) around this FPGA SoC since as early as 2017, enabling support for it in our Renode simulation platform. It is all the more exciting to see it in real life, booting Linux and flashing LEDs on our desk. The physical availability of this inexpensive ($499) devkit is a huge step forward in enabling the development of advanced devices for our customers, with some projects around this promising platform (like an HDMI breakout board) already underway at Antmicro.

Icicle kit with Antmicro's HDMI breakout board

RISC-V + Linux + FPGA = extreme flexibility

Antmicro has been working with FPGA SoCs from various vendors - Xilinx, Intel, QuickLogic - for many years, combining our software, hardware and FPGA expertise to build many pioneering applications that needed the flexibility, custom I/O and acceleration capabilities of an FPGA but at the same time leveraged the broad ecosystem of Linux software, with all its user-facing applications and libraries.

The PolarFire SoC is not “yet another” addition to the mix, however.
For one thing, just like Zynq was a major prototyping, research and experimentation platform for innovative Arm-based solutions (remember Parallella?), the PFSoC will bring about a wide array of early adoption use cases - besides “regular applications” - among people wanting to experiment with extending and customizing RISC-V itself with extra capabilities enabled by the tightly coupled FPGA.

RISC-V, being an open source ISA backed by organizations such as RISC-V Foundation and CHIPS Alliance - both of which we’re proud members of - generates unprecedented creative energy and enthusiasm among companies that value the freedom and customization capabilities of open hardware, Antmicro included.

Making the most of PolarFire SoC with Antmicro’s HDMI board

Experimentation and architectural research aside, the PFSoC is just a great FPGA SoC with a powerful CPU and 23-461K LUTs. Video and sound processing, machine learning accelerators, extremely flexible smart interface bridges are the areas where it will really shine, especially with the current advances in the open FPGA IP core ecosystem that we are contributing to. The Icicle board will be of great use in prototyping products that require custom hardware and IP, which we can then turn into dedicated boards with a custom gateware design and BSP.

Antmicro's HDMI breakout board

To expand the Icicle’s functionality we have designed and built a dedicated HDMI breakout board that connects to the boards RPi expansion header which can be used e.g. to display a Linux-driven UI or other graphical content. The board is available on GitHub today and joins a range of Antmicro’s boards that constitute a modular and flexible hardware ecosystem developed as part of our internal R&D and customer projects. With experience in creating custom hardware as well as software, our engineers can rapidly develop dedicated baseboards, systems and entire products based on the PolarFire SoC platform.

Full Renode support

Up to this point, the PolarFire SoC was available only through our open source simulation framework, Renode. Now that there is a physical development board, we have naturally enabled it with a dedicated demo on our list of supported boards.

Renode fully supports the PolarFire SoC platform with all of its peripherals, including the PCIe, Ethernet, CAN, SPI, I2C, and can simulate the Icicle with an unmodified Linux BSP running on it. That means you can just grab the Yocto BSP provided by Microchip, compile it and run in Renode, so if you don’t yet have access to the physical board, you can still start your pre-silicon development for the Icicle with our simulation framework. The comprehensive support for PFSoC in Renode allows you to start building a test-driven infrastructure for developing your product on PFSoC - you can even co-simulate your software for the SoC and the FPGA IP you are developing. As veterans of using Renode to do just that for our customers, we are happy to help you adopt this software/test-driven embedded development methodology.

Build your next PolarFire SoC product with Antmicro

Through our close collaboration with Microchip, comprehensive software, hardware and FPGA services, our open hardware ecosystem and an innovative development methodology, Antmicro can help you be the first to hit the market with PolarFire SoC based devices. The open, RISC-V based development platform is well positioned to have a profound impact on areas such as Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, automotive, defense, industrial automation and communications. Our cross-domain know-how, combined with the upcoming availability of the PolarFire SoC silicon, will give us even more possibilities to deliver advanced, scalable and modular solutions that meet the needs of your specific use case. Reach out to us at contact@antmicro.com to find out how we can assist you with your next product.

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