Freescale’s dual- and quad-core “Plus” i.MX6 SoCs boost graphic performance and RAM support, while the single-core Cortex-A7 “UltraLite” targets secure IoT.
Freescale Semiconductor announced three new versions of its popular i.MX6 SoCs, all of which will be backed with Linux BSPs and evaluation kits. The new i.MX6 DualPlus and i.MX6 QuadPlus system-on-chips offer optimized GPUs and memory support, but keep the same 21 x 21mm packages, and remain with the same allotment of Cortex-A9 cores. They offer full software and pin compatibility with earlier i.MX6 models, says Freescale.
Freescale i.MX6 family roadmap
(click image to enlarge)
The 528MHz i.MX6 UltraLite, meanwhile, is essentially an entirely new single-core SoC based on a more power-efficient Cortex-A7 architecture. The tiny UltraLite (UL), which is claimed to be “the smallest and most energy-efficient ARM-based processor,” has a stripped down WXGA display interface and new security, tamper detection, and power management features. It will be available in tiny 14x14mm and 9x9mm BGA packages.
The following charts compare key features and specifications of all current i.MX6 models. Specifics regarding the three new i.MX6 parts, including the two “Plus” models (i.MX6 DualPlus and QuadPlus) and the light-weight i.MX6 UltraLite, are discussed in detail farther below.
Freescale i.MX6 family features, highlighting differences
(click image to enlarge)
Freescale i.MX6 family key specifications, tabulated
(click image to enlarge)
i.MX6 DualPlus and i.MX6 QuadPlus
The i.MX6 DualPlus and i.MX6 QuadPlus are designed for automotive instrument clusters and infotainment systems, as well as medical equipment, industrial HMI, digital signage, and media streaming applications, says Freescale. The Plus SoCs have begun sampling, and will reach volume production in October, around the same time Freescale is slated to be merged with NXP.
The i.MX6 DualPlus and i.MX6 QuadPlus continue to clock to up to 1.2GHz at commercial temperature ranges, or as low as 800MHz in the optional extended and industrial temperatures. An automotive temperature model ranges up to -40 to 105°C.
Block diagrams: i.MX6 DualPlus and i.MX6 QuadPlus
(click images to enlarge)
Freescale doesn’t use the earlier Vivante brand name, but a comparison between the block diagrams of the Dual and DualPlus, for example, shows an almost identical multimedia subsystem, which is said to offer twice the graphics performance via “enhanced versions of 3D, 2D and composition GPUs.” The only other differences indicated are new prefetch and resolve engines.
The two Plus models also improve memory utilization by more than 50 percent, claims Freescale. As with the standard — and still available — i.MX6 versions, the Plus models support both 32- and 64-bit DDR2 and DDR3 RAM. However, the devices offer a “newly optimized 64-bit DDR3/LVDDR3/LPDDR2-1066 memory interface to increase bus bandwidth,” says the chipmaker. There’s also a doubling of the built-in embedded SRAM, which may be related to the new pre-fetch and resolve engines.
The peripheral support and other features on the Plus devices appear to be the same. In fact, Freescale has published a joint block diagram for the Plus models as well as both standard Dual and Quad models. The devices are available with Freescale’s PF0100 PMIC for power management.
With the i.MX6 UltraLite, the i.MX6 family expands to the more power efficient Cortex-A7 architecture. Freescale has also used Cortex-A7 on its dual-core QorIQ LS1021A SoC, which runs on under 3 Watts.
The i.MX6 UltraLite is designed for low-power, space constrained embedded environments, such as “the fast-growing Chinese mobile financial payments (ePOS) space,” says Freescale. The UltraLite will begin sampling in July. Freescale mentioned no production deadline.
i.MX6 UltraLite block diagram
(click image to enlarge)
The UltraLite is the fourth single-core i.MX6 model after the Solo, the SoloLite, and the i.MX6 SoloX, which combines the same single, 1GHz Cortex-A9 core found on the Solo and SoloLite with a Cortex-M4 MCU. Like the SoloLite, the SoloX offers a stripped down, but still 3D-ready Vivante GPU, with all the usual video and image coprocessors. The UltraLite, however, has a much simpler display controller, limited to a “programmable processing engine” with support for 16-bit Parallel CSI and 24-bit Parallel LCD output.
Freescale’s detailed i.MX6 family comparison chart (see farther above) shows a 528MHz clock rate for the UltraLite’s Cortex-A7 core, along with a 128KB L2 cache plus 128KB of on-chip SRAM. A pair of new TechNexion computer-on-module products (the PICO-IMX6UL and the EDM1-CF-IMX6UL) that feature the i.MX6 UltraLite offer industrial-strength shock and vibration resistance along with operating temperature ranges as wide as -40 to 85°C.
The i.MX6 UltraLite will be available with Freescale’s PF3000 PMICs, and is touted for its advanced power management featuring multiple energy saving modes, dynamic voltage, and frequency scaling. There’s also an integrated power switch for flexible power gating in low power modes, says Freescale. It’s unclear whether this is similar to the enhanced power management found on the SoloX.
Freescale also promotes the UltraLite’s security features, which include secure boot, hardware cryptographic cipher engines, and random number generators. Together these features help enable hardware-verified peripheral and memory access requests for secure isolation and prevention of tainted system resources, says Freescale.
The SoloX offers many of the same security enhancements compared to other i.MX6 models, but the UltraLite appears to go farther. It even includes hardware tamper detection, as well as an integrated on-the-fly DRAM encryption/decryption engine. Freescale claims the SoC is “among the most secure ARM Cortex-A7 microprocessor solutions available.”
The UltraLite’s 14 x 14mm and 9 x 9mm packages mark a substantial reduction from the 17 x 17mm and 19 x 19mm packages available for the SoloX. The UL’s flash support is the same as that of the SoloX. However, RAM support is limited to 16-bit LP DDR2, DDR3, or DDR3L RAM rather than the 32-bit support offered by the SoloX, and, as mentioned, L2 cache is reduced by half, to 128KB.
Peripheral support is more limited than the SoloX and other i.MX6 SoCs, which are notable for their impressive list of supported interfaces. You’re limited to a single 10/100 PHY rather than dual gigabit Ethernet ports, and you get dual USB OTG interfaces but no separate USB host ports. Dual FlexCAN ports are supported, but there’s no PCIe support, and there are fewer supported UART, SD, and ADC interfaces.
Display support is limited to 24-bit RGB up to WXGA (1366 x 768 pixels) resolution — there’s no LVDS — and camera support is limited to 16-bit Parallel. Audio support is slightly lesser powered, but you still get I2S and SPDIF options.
The i.MX6 DualPlus and i.MX6 QuadPlus are sampling now, with mass production planned for October. Sampling for the i.MX6 UltraLite processor is planned to begin in July. Linux BSPs and low-cost evaluation kits will be available for all these SoCs later this year. More information may be found at Freescale’s newly updated i.MX6 product page.