Atmel/Microchip SAMA5D2 RoadTest Review

Originally posted on:

Thank you to and Randall Scasny for selecting me for my very first RoadTest! 

Initial Impressions:

I was super hyped to get started when I got this package at the beginning of August. I have had some experience in using some of the Atmel/Microchip Xplained boards, especially the 328P, but this was a completely different beast.

On paper (Atmel | SMART SAMA5 ARM Cortex-A5 Based eMPUs ) this board, along with the rest of the SAMA5 family, has a lot going for it. The SAMA5D2 Xplained features an ARM Cortex-A5 processor clocked at 500 MHz, 4 Gb of DDR3L RAM, and 4 Gb eMMC. In addition to some other peripherals on board, this sounds like an embedded platform that you can rapidly prototype on.

What excited me most were the security features:

The SAMA5 family includes features to prevent cloning, ensure the authenticity, and secure the communications and data storage of your application.
  • Secure boot
  • Hardware encryption engines such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)/Triple Data Encryption Standard (DES), RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) and ECC (Elliptic Curves Cryptography), as well as Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) and True Random Number Generator (TRNG)
  • On the fly encryption/decryption of code from external DDR memories
  • Pin tamper detection to protect the system against physical intrusion
  • Secure storage of keys and data
  • ARM Trust Zone to partition system, peripherals and memory resources to isolate security-critical software from an open environment OS"

As a hardware engineer that conducts penetration testing against Internet of Things (IoT) devices, this board definitely sounds like tough device to crack if configured properly.

Testing and project demo:

Unfortunately getting to tinker with the security features in the SAMA5D2 was not as easy as I thought. Despite my attempts to connect to the board, support and documentation was quite lacking. I pretty much gave up after about a month of various attempts.

I ended up buying the Precision Design Associates Inc.(PDA) TM3401B LCD touch screen (Digi-Key) to try a "cool demo", as it appeared that there weren't any clear ways to get even a basic Arduino shield running on this board.

I downloaded and flashed a SD Card with the Crank Software demo image for the SAMA5D2 and started up the board:
There is a lot of potential for easy creation of IoT devices with the SAMA5D2. I could definitely see HVAC, Security systems, AV Lightning controls, and biomedical applications using it.

Engineers can easily create an interface using Crank Software Inc.'s Story board suite:

If there were some easy way to configure the security settings of the SAMA5D2, this could be easily integrated into a rock solid IoT device that can thwart hackers and pen-testers like myself.

Final thoughts and summary:
For my first RoadTest, this was very tough! I really wanted to evaluate this product with some Arduino Shields, because of the compatible header layout on the board. Microchip claims that the SAMA5D2 Xpalined "is a fast prototyping and evaluation platform", but my first hand experience using it and battle to getting started says otherwise. I was forced to cut my losses and buy a touchscreen that was compatible with this board to get something "cool" to run on this board. I really wanted to like this development board, but from the start the support and documentation to get the board up and running was an uphill battle, that I ended up giving up on. I have a strong hardware background and have significant experience with embedded devices in design and reverse engineering, but this development board single-handedly defeated me, by losing my interest and motivation to continue to work with it more. I gave this board a score of 29/60, because it has fantastic hardware, but very poor documentation for software and getting it started. I really hope that Microchip will add more documentation and example projects for this very capable device.

I want to thank and Randall Scansy again for giving me the opportunity to do this review and I hope to participate in more RoadTests!