Linux is in everything these days, and that means designers and engineers are crying out for a simple, easy-to-use module that simplifies the design of building a product to do something with Linux. The best example of this product category would probably be the Raspberry Pi Compute Module, followed by the C.H.I.P. Pro and its GR8 module. There are dozens of boards with Allwinner and Mali chips stuffed inside that can be used to build a Linux product, and the ‘BeagleBone on a Chip’ is a fantastic product if you need Linux and want to poke pins really, really fast.
Now Microchip is rolling out with their answer to the Linux System on Module. The SAMA5D2 is a single chip in a BGA package with a small footprint that runs Linux. It’s capable, it’s cheap, and if you want to put Linux in a project, this is your newest option.
The core product in this new Microchip lineup is the SAMA5D2 SIP, a system in package that puts an ARM Cortex-A5 CPU and DDR2 memory in a single BGA package that, with a cursory examination, looks easy enough to design a PCB around and reflow. There are four chips in this lineup, with 128 Mbit, 512 Mbit, and 1 Gbit of DDR2 memory. The 128 Mbit chip is meant for bare metal and RTOS applications, with the higher memory chips capable of running Linux at least as well as a repurposed router.
This chip is at the core of Microchip’s ATSAMA5D2 SOM, a system on module that adds power management (that only requires a single 3.3V supply), an Ethernet PHY, and boot memory into a single package that’s effectively as hand-solderable as a QFN package. It’s Linux on a Chip, or at least as close as we’ve gotten to such a concept.
Adding Linux to a project is hard, and while there are modules and systems that can do it, we’re always welcoming more options given to designers. While these modules and systems aren’t exactly cheap compared to a beefy ARM microcontroller — the SIP starts at around $9, the SOM is available for $39 in 100-unit quantities — this price is quite low compared to other Linux-on-Modules available.