Cortex-M1 Processor

Cortex-M1 Processor Image (View Larger Cortex-M1 Processor Image)
The ARM® Cortex®-M1 processor is the first ARM processor designed specifically for implementation in FPGAs. The Cortex-M1 processor targets all major FPGA devices and includes support for leading FPGA synthesis tools, allowing the designer to choose the optimal implementation for each project. The Cortex-M1 processor enables OEMs to achieve significant cost savings through rationalization of software and tools investments across multiple projects spanning FPGA, ASIC and ASSP, plus greater vendor independence through use of an industry-standard processor.

The ARM Cortex-M1 processor addresses the need for a high quality, standard processor architecture for FPGA applications, supporting a wide range of FPGA devices, including those from Actel, Altera, and Xilinx.

Advantages of using the ARM Cortex-M1 in FPGA

  • Standard processor architecture for all
  • Vendor independence - Cortex-M1 processor supports all major FPGA vendors
  • Software and tools can be re-used across FPGA and ASIC/ASSP
  • Easy migration path from FPGA to ASIC
  • Supported by the largest ecosystem - ARM Connected Community
  • Easy to migrate Cortex-M1 processor designs to newer and most efficient FPGAs
  • Supported by a strong ARM processor roadmap offering solutions at various performance points
  • ARM architecture proven in billions of ARM Powered® devices

The ARM Cortex-M1 processor brings the broad ecosystem of tools and operating systems of the ARM Connected Community to FPGA users, as well as software compatibility with ASIC optimized processors such as the ARM Cortex-M3 processor. Developers can standardize on a single architecture, supported by the largest eco-system in the industry, to reduce their hardware and software engineering costs.


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ARM Cortex-M1 Frequency and Area

FPGA Type Example Frequency (MHz) Area (LUTS)
65 nm Altera Stratix-III, Xilinx Virtex-5 200 1900
90 nm Altera Stratix-II, Xilinx Virtex-4 150 2300
65 nm Altera Cyclone-III 100 2900
90 nm Altera Cyclone-II, Xilinx Spartan-3 80 2600
130 nm Actel ProASIC3, Actel Fusion 70 4300 Tiles

The table above provides a guideline for Cortex-M1 frequency and area on different FPGA platforms. Please note that the results obtained in individual FPGA systems depends on the synthesis tools used, Place & Route tools used as well as the configuration options chosen.

The following configuration options obtained the results shown in the above.

  • The smallest Cortex-M1 configuration (0 K TCMs, No debug)
  • Assuming the fastest commercial speed grade

Evaluation Programs

ARM has now made it possible to evaluate the Cortex-M1 before acquiring a license to it. There are two evaluation methods available.

The OpenCores Plus program is available through Arrow Electronics. A free evaluation download is available from Arrow. For more information on this program please visit the Arrow website.

The Cortex-M1 is also available for evaluation through the Synopsys ReadyIP program. The Synopsys ReadyIP flow for ARM Cortex-M1 processor allows you to integrate the evaluation core within your design and target your choice of FPGA vendor devices from Actel, Altera and Xilinx. Access to an evaluation version of the core is quick and provided using click-through licensing and online registration.

The Cortex-M1 processor is a streamlined three-stage 32-bit RISC processor that implements the popular, high density Thumb-2® instruction set. This enables both the processor and software footprint to meet the area budget of the smallest FPGA devices, while retaining compatibility with Thumb code for any ARM processor from the ARM7TDMI® processor upwards. Despite being the smallest processor in the Cortex processor family, the Cortex-M1 processor can deliver 0.8 DMIPS/MHz.

Feature Set

  • Streamlined three stage 32 bit RISC processor
  • High frequency, low area design
  • Configurable instruction and data tightly coupled memories (0K - 1024K)
  • Integrated interrupt controller
  • 1 to 32 interrupts supported
  • 4 priority levels per interrupt
  • Highly configurable debug logic
  • Removable debug, breakpoint and watchpoint
  • Big or Little endian configurability
  • Fast or small multiplier configuration options supported
  • AMBA® AHB-Lite 32-bit bus interface


Implementation of the Cortex-M1 processor may be on any FPGA device using either proprietary or vendor independent synthesis flows.

FPGA Device Compatibility Implementation Tool Compatibility
Actel ProASIC3L & ProASIC3/E Actel Libero
Actel Fusion
Actel IGLOO/e
Altera Cyclone-II Altera Quartus-II
Altera Cyclone-III
Altera Stratix-II Synopsys Synplify Pro
Altera Stratix-III
Xilinx Spartan-3 Mentor Precision
Xilinx Virtex-2
Xilinx Virtex-3
Xilinx Virtex-4 Xilinx ISE

Cortex-M1 Development Kit

The ARM Cortex-M1 Development Kit is a natural extension to the Cortex-M1 processor, enabling developers to reduce engineering costs through the standardization of products on a single architecture spanning FPGAs, MCUs, ASICs and ASSPs.

The Cortex-M1 Development Kit, is a complete ARM design solution optimized for Altera Cyclone III Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) devices offering an easy route to deploying FPGAs, enabling developers to benefit from seamless integration of ARM processor technology using the Altera Quartus II and Altera SOPC tools.

Cortex M1 Development kit  cover image 

The introduction of the ARM Cortex-M1 Development Kit, comprised of the ARM Cortex-M1 processor netlist and ARM RealView Microcontroller Development Kit, offers FPGA developers a plug-in to Altera’s development environment, as well as access to the ARM processor architecture at an affordable price. The Cortex-M1 Development Kit will be distributed throughout Europe and the US by Arrow Electronics. The Example System Tutorial (EST), User Guide (UG) and the Installation Guide (IG) for the Cortex-M1 Kit are available on the ARM Info Center.

Software and Tools

The Cortex-M1 processor is fully supported by the ARM RealView® Development Suite and RealView Microcontroller Development Kit. The RealView Development Suite includes a complete instruction set system model (ISSM) allowing developers to create and test applications for the Cortex-M1 processor out of the box. Developers can easily customize the RealView Development Suite’s debugger to visualize and interact with peripherals added around a Cortex-M1 processor, and can also connect and debug applications running on Cortex-M1 silicon using ARM’s high-performance RealView ICE and ULINK®2 run control units. The Cortex-M1 processor also benefits from broad and growing support from tools and RTOS vendors in the ARM Connected Community.


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