You are on page 1of 6


Gustavo Martinez,
Applications Engineer

Gagan Maur,
Applications Engineer
Texas Instruments
Programmable Real-Time Unit (PRU):
Extending Functionality of
Existing SoCs
Today, developers utilizing embedded pro- As the complexity of applications implemented on SoC devices continues to increase, higher
cessors in their applications require more performance and many different connectivity options are required. TI continues to extend the
flexibility from their System-on-Chip (SoC) capabilities of its SoCs by providing more connectivity options with every new generation.
solutions. Often, missing features like ad- Table 1 on the following page highlights the addition in connectivity options going from the
ditional peripherals or custom interfaces are TMS320C672x DSP generation of floating-point DSPs to the TMS320C674x DSP generation.
implemented using FPGAs, ASICs, or soft- Even with these many connectivity options, the continuing innovation of developers and
ware resources, but these approaches can diversity of applications invariably results in these devices lacking some elements needed by
be costly as they take up valuable board the application. The missing attributes can be additional peripherals, system control inter-
space or consume processing bandwidth faces, or special interfaces.
of the main processor. The programmable It is often not possible to find a SoC that meets all requirements of an application and
real-time unit (PRU) subsystem gives sys- trade-offs must be made. Application developers carefully consider different factors when
tem engineers the ability to implement a choosing the right processor for their application. These include cost, performance, power
variety of soft peripherals which are peri- consumption, peripheral features (e.g., Ethernet controller, USB, keypad controller, etc.) and
pherals implemented using a combination software support.
of on-chip hardware and software. The dual Often, application developers find that a particular SoC meets their performance, power,
reduced instruction set (RISC) cores of the and cost goals but does not meet all of their peripheral needs. Application developers have
PRU allow system engineers to implement few options when addressing this issue: implement the missing peripherals using an FPGA
additional or custom peripherals without or an ASIC, or use a combination of on-chip processor hardware and software to emulate the
taking up valuable time from the main pro- missing peripheral.
cessor. A small, deterministic instruction
set, specialized bit-manipulation instruc-
Feature SoC
tions, dedicated, fast input/output pins, and requirements features
access to all resources on the SoC are all
key features of the PRU when it comes to Smart Ethernet Serial ATA
peripheral connectivity,
the creation of soft peripherals. The PRU DDR
interface, Audio serial
is available on the following Texas Instru- 9-bit UART port
NOR Flash
ments (TI) SoC platforms: TMS320C674x Additional interface, LCD
SPI port UART ports, controller
digital signal processor (DSP) generation, SPI port
OMAP-L1x processor generation and AM1x
Sitara ARM microprocessors (MPUs). Figure 1. Application requirements vs. SoC features.
2 Texas Instruments

Table 1. Comparison of TIs processors

TMS320C6727B TMS320C674x* TMS320C674x** OMAP-L138 OMAP-L137 AM1808 AM1806 AM1707 AM1705

DSP DSP DSP Processor Processor MPU MPU MPU MPU

Floating-point/ Floating-point/ ARM926/ ARM926/

CPU Floating-point Fixed-point Fixed-point C6748 C6747 ARM926 ARM926 ARM926 ARM926
ARM speed (Max) 456 456 456 456 456 456
ARM Dhrystone benchmark 511 511 511 511 511 511
DSP speed 300 456 456 456 456
DSP peak MMACs 600 3648 3648 3648 3648
Host Port Interface (HPI) 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Multichannel Buffered Serial Port (McBSP) 2 2 2 2
Multichannel Audio Serial Port (McASP) 3 1 3 1 3 1 1 3 2
I2C 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
Timers 1 4 2 4 2 4 4 2 2
Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
Ethernet MAC 1 1 1 1 1 1
LCD controller 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Video port interface 1 1 1 1
MMC/SD 2 1 2 1 2 2 1 1
Serial ATA 1 1 1
UART 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
USB 2 2 2 2 2 1 2 1
PWM 2 3 2 3 2 2 3 3
Programmable Real-Time Unit (PRU) sub- 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
* TMS320C6748/6/2. Listed features are for C6748 DSP.
** TMS320C6747/5/3. Listed features are for C6747 DSP.

Using an FPGA or ASIC has several drawbacks. Both can be costly and require additional development
resources. Also, this approach requires additional board space which can be a problem for some size-con-
strained applications. Using discrete logic, for example a standalone Controller Area Network (CAN) controller,
increases the bill of materials cost and also requires resources to develop software drivers.
When implementing a peripheral through software, the application developer must consider the impact on
the performance of the main processor. If the main processor is heavily utilized, it may be necessary to lower
the performance of the implemented peripheral. In some cases, the real-time response requirements of the
peripheral are too demanding for the main processor to adequately handle without affecting other functionality.

Soft peripheral The PRU subsystem on the OMAP-L1x processors, C674x DSPs, and AM1x Sitara ARM MPUs allows the
approach with application developer to implement soft peripherals; peripherals implemented using a combination of on-chip
the PRU
hardware and software. Unlike soft peripherals implemented using the main processor, PRU soft peripherals

Programmable Real-Time Unit (PRU): Extending Functionality of Existing SoCs April 2011
Texas Instruments 3

do not take any processing time from the main processor. PRU soft peripherals can also be customized to
meet specific application requirements and they can be replaced on-the-fly with other soft peripherals.
The PRU subsystem is a programmable module which can be used for soft peripheral implementation,
specialized data handling, direct-memory access (DMA) operations, and for offloading tasks from the main
processor. The PRU subsystem consists of two 32-bit RISC cores (referred to as programmable real-time
units, or PRUs), local data and instruction memories, an interrupt controller for capturing and manipulating
system-wide events, and input/output pins. The PRU instruction set is simple and execution times
are deterministic.
A specialized DMA engine is an example of a soft peripheral that can be fully implemented by the PRU.
In other cases the PRU can leverage other SoC peripherals for tasks such as clock synchronization, external
input/output pins, and data computation to implement soft peripherals. Regardless of how it is implemented,
a soft peripheral is a programmable solution that is both flexible and customizable.
Table 2 lists some key features of the PRU subsystem when it comes to implementing soft peripherals.

Table 2. Key features of the PRU subsystem

Feature Benefit
Small, deterministic instruction set with multiple bit-manipulation Easy to use; fast learning curve
Dedicated, fast input/output pins Input/output interface implementation; detect and react to I/O
event within two PRU cycles
Interrupt controller for monitoring and generating system events Communication with higher level software; detection of peripheral
events (e.g., transmit ready, timer interrupts, etc.)
Access all SoC resources (peripherals, memory, etc.) Direct access to buffer data; leverage system peripherals for
implementation of soft peripherals or other specialized tasks
Constants table containing many of the most commonly-used based Maximizes usage of the PRU register file and instruction memory
addresses for SoC peripherals and memory
Each PRU has dedicated instruction and data memory and can operate Use each PRU for a different task; use PRUs in tandem for more
independently or in coordination with the ARM, DSP, or the other PRU advanced tasks

32 GPO
PRU0 core DRAM0
30 GPI (512 Bytes)
32-bit interconnect SCR


PRU1 core (512 Bytes)
30 GPI

Master I/F
Interrupts to (to SCR2)
ARM/DSP INTC Interrupt
controller Slave I/F
Events from (INTC)
Periph + PRUs (from SCR2)

Figure 2. PRU subsystem functional block diagram.

Programmable Real-Time Unit (PRU): Extending Functionality of Existing SoCs April 2011
4 Texas Instruments

Fast, real-time While generic general-purpose input/output (GPIO) pins can be used to implement some functions, GPIO sup-
response ported by the SoC can be inadequate when a fast response time is required since often these pins cannot be
toggled or sampled at a very fast rate. The PRU includes dedicated, fast input/output pins which can be read
or toggled within a single cycle.
A soft CAN module is an example of where fast real-time response and fast input/output pins are required.
To adjust for frequency variations between CAN nodes, each receiving node must constantly adjust its
bit-sampling point. To meet this requirement, the CAN node must oversample its input pin at rates up to
25. The real-time response requirement is determined by the baud rate and the oversampling setting. For
example, when operating at a 150-kbit/sec rate with a 16 oversample clock, the CAN node has 416 sec
to process each bit. A 300-MHz DSP would have to process each bit every 126 cycles, which is possible but
extremely difficult to implement, but offloading such a task to the PRU would free up the DSP for more critical
tasks. Figure 3 shows a block diagram of a soft CAN implementation using the PRU. Note this implementation
is compatible, but not fully compliant, with the BOSCH CAN Specification 2.0B.



Soft CAN

Fast I/O

Fast I/O



Figure 3. Soft CAN block diagram.

Leveraging other The PRU has access to all SoC resources including hardware peripherals, system memory, external memory,
SoC resources and input/output pins. This allows the PRU subsystem to leverage other system resources to implement soft
peripherals. For example, a soft universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter (UART) can be implemented
using a serial port for data transmit and data receive using an 8 or 16 clock for oversampling. When data
is being received, the PRU could remove framing bits (start, stop, etc.), extract the actual data and transfer
the final result to SoC memory. For the transmit case, the PRU subsystem can move data from SoC memory,
add framing bits (start, stop, etc.) and directly access the serial port for transmission. Also, since the PRU is
programmable, custom features such as support for 9-bit characters and special baud rates can be added
to the soft UART. Figure 4 on the following page shows a block diagram of a soft UART implementation using
the PRU.

Programmable Real-Time Unit (PRU): Extending Functionality of Existing SoCs April 2011
Texas Instruments 5

ARM /DSP Configure

Soft UART Interrupts


Transmit buffer
Receive buffer Serializer


Figure 4. Soft UART block diagram.

Conclusion The PRU subsystem can be used to extend the functionality of existing SoCs by giving the system engineer
the capability to implement soft peripherals. Soft peripherals can vary from additional UARTs or SPI ports to
customized timers or DMA engines. Unlike traditional software peripherals, the PRU does not take processing
time away from the main processor(s) since it can operate independently. Furthermore, the reduced instruc-
tion set and deterministic operation of the PRU makes it easy to understand, allowing customers to quickly
start developing their own peripherals.
For additional information, please visit

Important Notice: The products and services of Texas Instruments Incorporated and its subsidiaries described herein are sold subject to TIs standard terms and
conditions of sale. Customers are advised to obtain the most current and complete information about TI products and services before placing orders. TI assumes no liability
for applications assistance, customers applications or product designs, software performance, or infringement of patents. The publication of information regarding any
other companys products or services does not constitute TIs approval, warranty or endorsement thereof.

Sitara is a trademark of Texas Instruments Incorporated. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

2011 Texas Instruments Incorporated SPRY136A

Texas Instruments Incorporated and its subsidiaries (TI) reserve the right to make corrections, modifications, enhancements, improvements,
and other changes to its products and services at any time and to discontinue any product or service without notice. Customers should
obtain the latest relevant information before placing orders and should verify that such information is current and complete. All products are
sold subject to TIs terms and conditions of sale supplied at the time of order acknowledgment.
TI warrants performance of its hardware products to the specifications applicable at the time of sale in accordance with TIs standard
warranty. Testing and other quality control techniques are used to the extent TI deems necessary to support this warranty. Except where
mandated by government requirements, testing of all parameters of each product is not necessarily performed.
TI assumes no liability for applications assistance or customer product design. Customers are responsible for their products and
applications using TI components. To minimize the risks associated with customer products and applications, customers should provide
adequate design and operating safeguards.
TI does not warrant or represent that any license, either express or implied, is granted under any TI patent right, copyright, mask work right,
or other TI intellectual property right relating to any combination, machine, or process in which TI products or services are used. Information
published by TI regarding third-party products or services does not constitute a license from TI to use such products or services or a
warranty or endorsement thereof. Use of such information may require a license from a third party under the patents or other intellectual
property of the third party, or a license from TI under the patents or other intellectual property of TI.
Reproduction of TI information in TI data books or data sheets is permissible only if reproduction is without alteration and is accompanied
by all associated warranties, conditions, limitations, and notices. Reproduction of this information with alteration is an unfair and deceptive
business practice. TI is not responsible or liable for such altered documentation. Information of third parties may be subject to additional
Resale of TI products or services with statements different from or beyond the parameters stated by TI for that product or service voids all
express and any implied warranties for the associated TI product or service and is an unfair and deceptive business practice. TI is not
responsible or liable for any such statements.
TI products are not authorized for use in safety-critical applications (such as life support) where a failure of the TI product would reasonably
be expected to cause severe personal injury or death, unless officers of the parties have executed an agreement specifically governing
such use. Buyers represent that they have all necessary expertise in the safety and regulatory ramifications of their applications, and
acknowledge and agree that they are solely responsible for all legal, regulatory and safety-related requirements concerning their products
and any use of TI products in such safety-critical applications, notwithstanding any applications-related information or support that may be
provided by TI. Further, Buyers must fully indemnify TI and its representatives against any damages arising out of the use of TI products in
such safety-critical applications.
TI products are neither designed nor intended for use in military/aerospace applications or environments unless the TI products are
specifically designated by TI as military-grade or "enhanced plastic." Only products designated by TI as military-grade meet military
specifications. Buyers acknowledge and agree that any such use of TI products which TI has not designated as military-grade is solely at
the Buyer's risk, and that they are solely responsible for compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements in connection with such use.
TI products are neither designed nor intended for use in automotive applications or environments unless the specific TI products are
designated by TI as compliant with ISO/TS 16949 requirements. Buyers acknowledge and agree that, if they use any non-designated
products in automotive applications, TI will not be responsible for any failure to meet such requirements.
Following are URLs where you can obtain information on other Texas Instruments products and application solutions:
Products Applications
Audio Communications and Telecom
Amplifiers Computers and Peripherals
Data Converters Consumer Electronics
DLP Products Energy and Lighting
DSP Industrial
Clocks and Timers Medical
Interface Security
Logic Space, Avionics and Defense
Power Mgmt Transportation and
Microcontrollers Video and Imaging
RFID Wireless
RF/IF and ZigBee Solutions
TI E2E Community Home Page

Mailing Address: Texas Instruments, Post Office Box 655303, Dallas, Texas 75265
Copyright 2011, Texas Instruments Incorporated