By Alf Helge Omre March 31, 2021
Single processor solutions will inevitably have to trade-off the processor’s computational power against its efficiency. When that trade-off becomes too great, developers look towards dual-core solutions.
Tomorrow’s commercial products will demand connectivity solutions to support advanced, highly-complex applications while also reducing time-to-market and development risk.
Two cores better than one
In a dual-core wireless SoC, one powerful processor with a high clock rate can be dedicated to the computational heavy lifting (and then switched off to save power until it is next needed). The other, a power-optimized processor with a slower clock, can be dedicated to wireless networking.
Better yet, each core can also run its own software, preventing clashes between application code and RF protocol and allowing optimized algorithms for their destined processor. To make things even more battery-friendly, each processor can benefit from its own power management system.
Moreover, the application code can run continuously without interruptions from the radio. Or the other way around, the radio can run without being interrupted by the application code. Such a configuration is useful in mesh (for example, lighting) and mission-critical motor control applications.
An SoC for today … and tomorrow
Nordic’s nRF5340 is the world’s first wireless SoC to integrate two user-accessible Arm Cortex-M33 processor cores. The application processor is optimized for performance and can run at either 128 (for 514 CoreMark performance) or 64 MHz, and the network processor is optimized for efficiency (101 CoreMark/mA at 64 MHz).
The nRF5340’ dual-core architecture has been cleverly divided into distinctly defined subsystems:
- An efficient and stable subsystem based on the network processor and used to supervise the RF protocol software (for example, a Bluetooth LE stack)
- The application processor subsystem, with the powerful processor only needing to wake up when it’s time to run the complex application software and quickly returning to a low power sleep mode when the operation is complete.
Separating the subsystems in this way frees up the developer to focus on innovative application software to differentiate their product from the competition, safe in the knowledge that the network subsystem will look after itself. However, Nordic gives customers full access to both cores and freedom to use each as they want. For example, a developer might want to select application software elements to run on the network processor, utilizing its higher efficiency.
A dual-core SoC eliminates the difficult trade-off between processing capability and power consumption associated with a single core. In the hands of the right developer, this extra capability will result in advanced and innovative applications.
Read more: Why does the nRF5340 have two cores?
Module makers take advantage
Nordic’s design partner module makers have been quick to take advantage of the nRF5340’s capabilities. Companies such as Abluetech, Fanstel, Laird, Raytac, Taiyo Yuden, and u-blox have already incorporated the nRF5340 to provide the core processing and wireless connectivity for their latest modules.
These companies offer a range of qualified and certified modules based on Nordic’s technology. In the case of the nRF5340, that means developers can immediately take advantage of dual-core technology for low-power advanced wireless designs without going through the complex and costly paperwork and testing associated with short-range radio regulatory approvals.
The nRF5340 SoC’s dual-core architecture further extends the advantages of Nordic’s proven nRF52 Series SoCs. These advantages include ultra-low power consumption, a high link budget and multi-protocol capabilities, including support for Bluetooth LE, Thread, Zigbee, IEEE 802.15.4, and NFC. And some nRF5340 modules, for example, Laird’s BL5340PA and Fanstel’s BT40X, can provide adjustable power boosts through an integrated nRF21540 RF Front End Module (FEM), which is Nordic’s power amplifier/low noise amplifier (PA/LNA) solution supporting high TX power applications.
A win for developers
The nRF5340 modules are targeted at wireless product designers requiring the highest possible performance and security without compromising on ultra-low power consumption. They enable demanding IoT applications in core target markets such as smart building, asset tracking, secure medical peripherals, telehealth, and industrial automation.
Geir Langeland, Nordic’s Director of Sales and Marketing, said these third-party products allow the module makers’ customers to design the next generation of advanced multi-protocol wireless solutions confidently.
Laird’s Jonathan Kaye, Senior Director – Product Management, said that the nRF5340’s dual-core Arm M33 architecture, excellent multi-protocol radio, and next-generation security capabilities combine to provide a state-of-the-art SoC for third-party developers. He added that the product will serve to enhance Nordic’s considerable reputation in short-range wireless solutions further.
By: Alf Helge Omre
Alf works in Nordic as Business Development Manager.
Courtesy of Nordic Semiconductor