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i.MX6 UL based Pico-ITX SBC is a wireless wonder

Jul 10, 2017 — by Eric Brown — 1,174 views
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Digi’s rugged “ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro” runs Linux on an i.MX6 UL with dual Ethernet, WiFi-ac, BT 4.2, NFC, mini-PCIe, and a Digi Xbee socket.

Digi International’s Pico-ITX form factor ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro expands upon its an integrated ConnectCore 6UL computer-on-module, which is based on NXP’s low-power i.MX6 UltraLite (UL) system-on-chip, and adds a host of wired and wireless connectivity features. The rugged, industrial temperature resistant ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro is the same sandwich-style SBC that was released last December as part of a ConnectCore 6UL Development Kit aimed at smart gateways.



ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro (left) and similar ConnectCore 6UL Development Kit
(click images to enlarge)

We missed the announcement of the Development Kit, which includes a variety of antennas and cables that are bit available in the ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro package. All these products ship with a Yocto Project Linux BSP with source code. The BSP includes the Digi TrustFence device security framework, which features secure connections, authenticated boot, encrypted data storage, access-controlled ports, secure software updates, and seamless integration of the i.MX6 UL’s Secure Element (SE).

The original Starter Kit that shipped with the ConnectCore 6UL is now available separately as a ConnectCore 6UL SBC Express. The smaller Express SBC has far fewer wireless features and I/O compared to the SBC Pro (see farther below).

 
ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro

The 100 x 72 mm ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro is built around the 29 x 29mm ConnectCore 6UL module, which is one of the smallest of the increasingly tiny COMs based on the 528MHz, Cortex-A7 i.MX6 UL. While the COM lets you expand the 256MB DDR3 RAM and 256MB to 2GB SLC NAND flash to 1GB and 2GB respectively, the SBC appears to limit you to the 256MB allotments. However, there’s a microSD slot, as well as an optional 4GB of eMMC flash.



ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro block diagram (left) and ConnectCore 6UL COM
(click images to enlarge)

The ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro expands upon the COM’s built in 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2 with BLE radios with on-board MMCX antenna connectors. The SBC also adds an NFC chip, as well as a socket for pre-certified Digi XBee/RF modules for 802.15.4, ZigBee, Thread, DigiMesh, and sub-GHz wireless connectivity.

There is also a full-sized mini-PCIe slot with micro-SIM support for adding cellular modems. A special 14-pin header is provided for wireless control functions, and there’s a Digi Remote Manager for secure remote device management and firmware updates over the air.

The ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro is further equipped with 2x Fast Ethernet ports, 2x USB 2.0 host ports, a micro-USB OTG, and a USB host header. For display, you get 24-bit RGB, 18-bit LVDS, and touchscreen headers, with up to 1366 x 768 resolution. There’s also an 8-bit “Parallel CSI” camera header, although the Digi comparison table says it is Parallel, not CSI. For audio, you get a 3.5mm audio jack, and various audio I/O headers.

Additional I/O includes 8x GPIO, 2x I2C, and 2x CAN, as well as UART/console, SPI, and JTAG/SWD debug connectors. You also get 3x user LEDs, a wide range of buttons and switches, and a 5VDC barrel connector and header. The thoroughly rugged SBC runs at -40 to 85°C, and offers vibration/shock resistance per IEC 60068-2-6, IEC 60068-2-64, and IEC 60068-2-27.

Specifications listed for the ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro include:

  • Processor (via ConnectCore 6UL COM) — NXP i.MX6 UltraLite (1x Cortex-A7 core @ 528MHz)
  • Memory/storage:
    • 256MB DDR3 RAM (via ConnectCore 6UL COM)
    • 256MB SLC NAND flash (via ConnectCore 6UL COM)
    • Optional 4GB MMC
    • MicroSD slot
  • Wireless:
    • Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 1×1 (via ConnectCore 6UL COM)
    • Bluetooth 4.2 with Bluetooth Low Energy (via ConnectCore 6UL COM)
    • MMCX and U.FL antenna connectors
    • NFC Type 2 with energy-harvesting NXP NTAG, field detection trigger
    • Digi XBee socket for RF modules
    • Mini-PCIe (full- or half-size) slot with micro-SIM slot for Huawei, Quectel, Sierra Wireless, Telit, and uBlox cellular modules
    • RF control header (14-pin)
  • Networking — 2x 10/100 Ethernet ports
  • Multimedia I/O:
    • 24-bit Parallel RGB (40-pin header)
    • 18-bit LVDS (20-pin)
    • Touchscreen support via GPIO header
    • 8-bit Parallel CSI (20-pin)
    • 3.5mm headphone jack
    • Speaker (6-pin)
    • Audio line-in, mic, line-out (8-pin):
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB 2.0 host ports
    • Micro-USB OTG port
    • USB host header
    • 8x GPIO plus 1x touch via 14-pin
    • 2x I2C (6-pin)
    • SPI (8-pin)
    • 2x CAN (6-pin)
    • JTAG/SWD debug
    • 5V, 3.3V, and battery (2-pin each)
  • Other features — 4x LEDs (3x user); power, reset, user, boot select, RF, and antenna select buttons/switches
  • Ruggedization:
    • Operating temperature — -40 to 85°C
    • Vibration/shock resistance per IEC 60068-2-6, IEC 60068-2-64, and IEC 60068-2-27
    • Altitude — up to 3,658 meters
  • Power — 5VDC barrel connector and header; 300 mA typical consumption
  • Dimensions — 100 x 72mm (Pico-ITX)
  • Operating system — Yocto Project Linux BSP with source and Digi TrustFence security

 
ConnectCore 6UL SBC Express and ConnectCore 6

Back in Sep. 2016, Digi released a ConnectCore 6UL Starter Kit with the same ConnectCore 6UL COM, but on a smaller (87 x 63mm), less feature-rich board aimed at headless applications. (We covered a prototype of the Starter Kit as part of our May 2016 ConnectCore 6UL coverage.) The Starter Kit is now being offered separately as a ConnectCore 6UL SBC Express board, once again without all the kit extras.



ConnectCore 6UL SBC Express (left) and ConnectCore 6
(click images to enlarge)

The rugged ConnectCore 6UL SBC Express lacks the SBC Pro’s NFC, XBee, mini-PCIe, and micro-SIM connections, and is limited to single USB host and micro-USB ports. Other missing features include CAN, audio, camera, and LVDS, and the RGB output is limited to 8-bit. On the other hand, the Express adds a Grove interface for adding sensor and I/O modules.

The ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro datasheet (PDF) features a handy comparison chart between the Pro, the Express, and the Linux-ready ConnectCore 6 Pico-ITX SBC. The earlier ConnectCore 6 uses the original i.MX6 SoCs, and offers most of the same wireless features as the SBC Pro, including XBee. It has only a single Ethernet port, but offers a variety of multimedia connections such as HDMI.

The ConnectCore 6UL SBC Starter Kit and ConnectCore 6 were among the first round of SBCs to be supported by Amazon’s AWS Greengrass Core software for IoT gateways.

 
Further information

The ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro is now available for as low as $169 in 1K volume, and the Developer Kit starts at $199. More information may be found at the ConnectCore 6UL SBC Pro product page.
 

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