ARM DesignStart enables fast innovation on the cheap

A few weeks ahead of ARM’s TechCon, the IP design house is pushing to give embedded and IoT product developers a head start of their own.

On Tuesday ARM announced a revamp of their DesignStart portal, a web-based resource for SoC designers that accelerates design times by providing pre-commercial access to physical and processor IP for the Cortex-M0 for free, and by “free” I mean free beer, not free speech. In addition to the -M0 System Design Kit (SDK) that includes the IP, peripherals, a test bench, and software, designers can leverage the full Keil MDK development suite on a free 90-day license, and when ready for prototyping or to mix in other IP, ARM is offers the relatively low-cost ($995) Versatile Express FPGA development board through the DesignStart portal as well. At production time the company has also implemented a $40,000 fast-track commercial IP licensing program through DesignStart that covers the -M0 IP, SDK, Keil tools, and a year of technical support; the “free” here being that the standardized license can hopefully “free you up of lawyers.”

The upgraded DesignStart program comes amidst a new wave of custom SoC development where designers are increasingly integrating connectivity, mixed-signal, and sensor IP alongside processing capabilities for systems at the edge. As the Cortex-M0 represents somewhat of an inflection point for IoT edge devices, the ability to design, simulate, and test SoCs based on the technology through a quick-start program significantly reduces barriers to entry for startups, Maker Pros, and even engineering design teams within larger companies that are working with ARM IP for the first time. Design house and foundry partnerships through DesignStart also help smooth out the commercialization process, which Ian Smythe, Director of Marketing Programs in ARM’s Processor Division said in a briefing matches the company’s goals of creating “a designer-friendly system that enables products to get out there, experimented with, and delivered as quickly and easily as possible.”


Figure 1: The physical IP provided through DesignStart represents more than 15 ARM Partner foundries and 85 process node technologies ranging from 250 nm to 16 nm / 14 nm FinFET.


(Click graphic to zoom by 1.9x)

“The IoT has made embedded sexy, and it’s a combination of several factors,” he said. “Embedded has always been a huge market, but adding connectivity to it provides multiple possibilities and we’re still at that experimental growth stage with multiple opportunities being created. That’s the opportunity around the convergence of the Internet and the embedded space, the opportunity of connecting things together and developing new innovative services,” Smythe says. “When we looked at the model we could use to support this, we knew we had a strong ecosystem and that Cortex-M was shipping in mass quantities, but how can we enable people to build SoCs for their market, and quickly?

“The [DesignStart] relaunch is intended to accelerate innovation in the embedded and IoT markets,” he continues. “ARM felt the most important thing was to be able to equip designers in a start up, custom mode with free access to the IP, so we made the Cortex-M0 system IP, as well as the Cortex-M0 SDK, downloadable for free so people can go away and design their heart out. Download the IP, stick it into the toolchain, and simulate. You can go away and design and prototype, and at the point where you’re ready, ARM provides a fast, easy, low-cost way to get access to commercial IP. It’s a short license span that doesn’t need 5 lawyers, and for 40k you can take this to production.

“If we can encourage growth with a web-based bit of IP, that’s what we want to try and see,” he adds.

The Cortex-M0 evaluation package is available for download as a pre-configured Verilog netlist, and the updated DesignStart portal also gives access to a broad range of ARM Artisan physical IP. To get started go to