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Low Cost MIPS SoC Kit

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Hi3210i

I introduced Loongson 2E/2F general purpose RISC CPU in my blog. Loongson is based upon MIPS III ISA, developed by ICT and manufactured by ST microelectronics. I also mentioned HiSand in Guangzhou China, who uses Loongson core to roll out the SoC, HS3210, for consumer and industrial applications. HS3210 has comparable performance of popular ARM9, with relatively lower price. According to their website, the 1K order costs 5.5USD/pcs only. They accept small orders less than 49 pieces as well. It is the commercial information. Let us check out the specification.

Hi3210 Features

  • 32-bit RISC CPU core, running at 266MHz
  • Loongson, general purpose MIPS III ISA
  • 5 stage pipeline
  • 16KB instruction and 8KB data caches
  • 32 entries TLB
  • Fully pipelined multiplier module
  • SDRAM controller (133MHz, up to 256MB)
  • NOR Flash controller (8/16-bit, up to 32MB, power saving mode)
  • NAND Flash controller (8/16-bit, up to 1TB, power saving mode)
  • SPI master
  • UART x 2
  • PS2 keyboard and mouse
  • I2C master
  • IEEE1149.1 JTAG interface
  • Rich GPIOs
  • CAN bus x 2
  • 4 external interrupts
  • AC97 audio interface (16/18/20 sampling, up to 48 KHz, 2 channel stereo output, 1 audio input)
  • HPI (Intel demux mode and Motorola mode, interface to Infineon Vinetic DSP)
  • LCD controller (QVGA, VGA, SVGA, XVGA, up to 1280*960, 65535 TFT)
  • 802.3 MAC, with MII interface
  • Two PLL, requires 5MHz crystal
  • 32-bit watchdog timer
  • Interrupt controller
  • DMA controller

Development Kit

Loongson Zhijian is HiSand's distributor, offering a low-cost kit for Hi3210i. The DEV3210 kit contains a Hi3210 board, JTAG interface, DVD and related accessories. The price is only 88USD. However, you can not expect too much support from the distributors. This kit is a good board for Linux fans, MIPS processor evaluation and product prototype. Meanwhile, Loongson Zhijian offers a Hi3210 core board, which contains all necessary resources on a miniature PCB. You can plug this board into a main board to build a complete system.

Besides on-chip resources, the DEV3210 also installed the following devices on board:

  • ROM: 2MB NOR Flash
  • RAM: 64MB SDRAM 100MHz
  • DOC: 256MB NAND Flash (up to 2GB)
  • USB: Host/Slave USB 1.1
  • SD: SD Card over SPI bus
  • JTAG: bootloader download
  • WiFi: SDIO WiFi, optional
  • AV/TV: via VIA VT1622 video encoder
  • LAN, RS232, CAN bus, Audio, VGA, expansion bus socket
  • LCD touch panel, optional
  • Keypad, optional
  • IrDA, optional
  • Dimension: 135x117mm

Reference Designs

Linux is the preferred software platform for MIPS. You may use Windows CE or Android for MIPS, but you have to handle many problems during porting them onto Loongson SoC. In the DVD comes with DEV3210 board, you can find all necessary documents, Linux BSP, bootloader, device drivers, schematics, user manuals... You can also find some interesting demo software packages for the reference designs. You may contact the suppliers to get the source for the reference designs. Up to now, HiSand offers following reference designs for OEMs.

  • VoIP terminal
  • Internet Radio
  • Digital Photo Frame
  • Visual Access Control System
  • POS
  • Enterprise Firewall
  • SOHO router
  • BitTorrent Download Box

Market Position

I compared Hi3210i with popular ARM920 chips (Samsung S2410/2440). The performance and price are comparable. However, Hi3210 has no native USB and SDIO interface. The final design has to interface the external USB controller to its HPI interface. The SD card has to be interfaced to the SPI master, which is much slower than native SDIO socket. Maybe HiSand can integrate them in the next version? The USB bus and SDIO interface are so popular. Hi3210 can support both LCD and VGA output, makes it suitable for embedded system involving human interaction. 

The other MIPS kit is Alchemy MIPS (AMD/RMI). The au1000 kit has more features and higher integration level. But I can not find the commercial information for Alchemy MIPS kit from RMI. I believe it is not cheap according to the previous kit from AMD. 

Microchip also offers MIPS based PIC32 family. PIC32 offers rich features in a small package and low cost starter kit (49.99USD, even cheaper), but PIC32 is a microcontroller family, running at 80MHz. That means PIC32 can run RTOS, rather than Linux.

Hi3210i is focusing on low-end consumer markets, so the kit and its core module are offered at very low price. You can consider Hi3210 SoC as your second source in the embedded systems which have no strong demands on USB connectivity and local storage. You can not use it in NAS, but you still can use it in DPF, Internet Radio, POS, and internet connected devices.

Reference

HiSand HS3210i Product Page (in Chinese)
http://www.hisand.cn/list.php?fid=17&page=1

CEVX embedded developers
http://www.cevx.com/bbs/viewthread.php?tid=20147

RMI Alchemy Processors
http://www.rmicorp.com/products/alchemy.htm

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