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MIPS-based Newton module takes on Intel’s Edison in wearables

Apr 1, 2014  |  Eric Brown

Ingenic unveiled a tiny MIPS-based “Newton” COM for wearable and IoT devices that runs Android or Linux on an Xburst SoC, and offers WiFi and sensors.

The Newton computer-on-module development platform was announced both by Beijing-based semiconductor company Ingenic Semiconductor and by Imagination Technologies, which licenses MIPS intellectual property to Ingenic. While Imagination’s announcement focuses solely on wearables, Ingenic lists wearables as only the first of many Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

Additional Newton targets are said to include health care, home appliances, security, biometrics, industrial control, and consumer electronics. In addition, Imagination hints at a Newton role as a hardware platform for Google’s new Android Wear stack, although Ingenic makes no mention of this (see farther below).



Ingenic Newton
(click image to enlarge)

As the name hints, the Newton COM will go head to head with the “Edison” module that Intel announced in January. Like the Edison, the 39 x 22mm Newton supports Linux, but unlike the Edision, it also supports Android. It is similarly said to be about the size of an SD card. On Mar. 28, Intel amended its plans, saying that before releasing its Quark-based product, it will build a version of the Edison based on a dual-core Intel Atom SoC, resulting in a module that is “slightly larger” than an SD card.

The Newton features Ingenic’s 32-bit MIPS based XBurst system-on-chip, which is said to have shipped in more than 40 million devices, including tablets, ebook readers, multimedia players, and wearables. The Newton uses a relatively new JZ4775 XBurst SoC. This is a stripped down version of the similarly 1GHz JZ4770, which is found in products such as the Linux-based GWC Zero handheld game console. It appears to be even more similar to the apparently discontinued JZ4774 used by the Android-based Geak Watch.



Newton block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The JZ7445 replaces the Vivante GC860 GPU found on the JZ4770 with a much simpler 2D GPU, and its video accelerator stops at 720p resolution instead of 1080p. Camera resolution is half that of the JZ4770, at 2048 x 2048 pixels. On the plus side, the JZ4775 has more advanced memory support, including DDR3 RAM up to 800Mbps, support for Toggle NAND flash in addition to NAND, and support for 64-bit ECC memory.

The JZ4775 also appears to be more power efficient than the JZ4770. The Newton COM boasts operating power consumption in the range of 80mW to 260mW, and standby at less than 4mW, according to the company. A Newton-based smartwatch can last for 30+ hours on a single charge, says Imagination.



Newton details
(click image to enlarge)

The Newton is equipped with 3GB of DDR1 RAM and 32GB of eMMC flash. The module includes an LCD interface with support for touch input and backlighting, as well as an E Ink EPD controller for monochrome electrophoretic displays. Both WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 are provided, along with NFC and FM radios via a single 4-in-1 wireless module.

As befits a wearable device, the module integrates a 3-axis gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer, plus temperature, humidity, and pressure sensors. Healthcare and fitness applications can take advantage of the built-in ECG biosensor. I/O includes interfaces for USB 2.0, I2C, UART, GPIO, and “motor control,” although the latter may be referring to the UART or GPIO interfaces.



Newton details, reverse side
(click image to enlarge)

The Newton can run on USB or battery power, and includes a power management unit (PMU). Imagination makes a point of saying the PMU is not integrated in the processor itself, thereby supporting Ingenic’s modular approach. Customers can “remove unneeded components from the module to reduce the BOM cost,” says Imagination.

Operating system support is said to include Linux 3.0.8; Android 4.4 (KitKat), and “several” open source real-time operating systems (RTOSes). Ingenic will also supply specialized software packages for developing voice or gesture controlled user interfaces.

Specifications listed for the Newton include:

  • Processor — Ingenic JZ4775, (1x XBurst core @ up to 1GHz); 256KB L2 cache
  • Memory — 3GB LPDDR1; 32GB eMCP eMMC flash
  • Display — supports LCD or EPD (epaper) displays with touchscreen and backlight
  • Audio — DMIC; speaker
  • Wireless:
    • 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz)
    • Bluetooth 4.0 + EDR (BLE compliant)
    • FM
    • NFC
  • Sensors:
    • 3-axis gyroscope
    • 3-axis accelerometer
    • 3-axis magnetometer
    • ECG sensor
    • Pressure sensor
    • Humidity sensor
    • Temperature sensor
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 2.0
    • I2C
    • UART
    • GPIO
    • “Motor support”
  • Other features — power and home buttons
  • Power — USB or battery, with PMU and charger
  • Power consumption:
    • < 4mW standby
    • < 80m lowest running
    • < 100mW MP3 playing
    • < 260mW highest running
  • Dimensions — 38 x 22 x 3mm
  • Operating system — Linux 3.0.8; Android 4.4 (KitKat); “several” RTOSes

 
A platform for Android Wear?

Google did not specifically mention Ingenic in its recent announcement of an Android Wear platform for Android-based wearables, but Imagination Technologies is on the list, along with semiconductor vendors Broadcom, Intel, Qualcomm, Mediatek, and Samsung. Imagination points out that it is the only IP supplier on the list, as opposed to a SoC vendor.

“This means MIPS, PowerVR, and Ensigma licensees will have early access to the latest resources from Google and a chance to better optimize their platforms for the next generation of wearable devices,” stated Imagination’s Alexandru Voica in his blog announcement. “In the coming months we will be focusing on several fully-featured, highly efficient hardware platforms that use hardware IP from Imagination to create disruptive solutions for the approaching wave of connected consumer and enterprise devices.”

All this leaves the impression that the Newton is an Android Wear ready platform, yet it’s never clearly stated, and Ingenic makes no mention of it. In late January, Imagination’s Voica posted a blog announcement promoting the fact that Ingenic’s XBurst is used in a number of smartwatches, including the Android-powered Geak Watch, YiFang Digital NextOne, and Tomoon T-Fire.

Imagination acquired MIPS a little over a year ago for $100 million, and has watched its stock price drop by half since then, according to a recent Forbes report. As the story suggests, wearables may be a way back for MIPS and Imagination. MIPS is also counting on its Android-ready Warrior processor platform, starting with its MIPS Series5 Warrior-P system-on-chip. The Warrior-P is equipped with six 32-bit MIPS P5600 cores said to offer up to twice the performance of earlier 32-bit cores.

MIPS was the first non-ARM architecture to be ported to Android, but it has only modest success with partners like Android tablet vendor Velocity Micro. MIPS even announced some Android phones based on MIPs, but not much seems to have come of the MIPS phones.

 
Further information

No pricing or availability information was supplied for the Ingenic Newton. More information may be found at the Ingenic Newton product page and the Imagination Technologies Newton announcement.
 

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