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Automotive i.MX6 SoC to include Cortex-M4 MCU

Apr 14, 2014 — by Eric Brown 3,401 views

Freescale announced an automotive focused version of its Cortex-A9 based i.MX6 SoC that integrates a Cortex-M4 microcontroller and supports Android and Linux.

In recent years, Freescale Semiconductor’s i.MX6, one of the most popular ARM SoCs among embedded Linux developers, has been increasingly used in automotive in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems. Soon, a new “expanded” version of the Cortex-A9-based i.MX6 should find even greater favor among automotive equipment manufacturers thanks to an integrated Cortex-M4 microcontroller that offers greater real-time response. The new i.MX6 is the first to combine Cortex-A9 and Cortex-M4 cores, according to the chipmaker.

i.MX6 SoC scalability
(click image to enlarge)

The “expanded” i.MX6 (not represented above) has entered alpha sampling, and will ship in production in the fourth quarter says Freescale. Although Freescale is not clear on the point, the design appears to be a spinoff rather than an upgrade to the mainstream i.MX6 system-on-chip. Like Freescale’s hybrid Cortex-A5/Cortex/M4 Vybrid SoC (see farther below), the new i.MX6 will be supported with Linux and MQX real-time operating system (RTOS) board support packages, and it will also offer Android support. In addition, Freescale will ship a new SABRE development board for the SoC in the fourth quarter.

i.MX6 SABRE development platform
(click image to enlarge)

The heterogeneous design should enable “connected, highly graphical and system-aware devices,” says Freescale. The new i.MX6 “provides additional low power modes to significantly reduce standby power consumption, allows for smaller form factor design, and executes fast, real-time responsiveness to system inputs,” says the company.

The hybrid design is said to be a better approach for automotive than multi-chip solutions, “which increase cost, board space, and system complexity.” It’s also touted as being superior to implementing virtualization on a multicore SoC, “which can negatively impact real-time performance and system power,” according to Freescale.


The new i.MX6 will support applications that simultaneously require real-time task processing and compute-intensive capabilities, says Freescale. The SoC will integrate four independently controlled resource domains for partitioning system resources such as memory and peripherals. This is said to enable hardware verification of peripheral and memory access requests in order “to provide secure isolation and prevent tainting of system resources.”

Other highlights of the upcoming i.MX6 are said to include:

  • Dual-port gigabit Ethernet audio video bridging (AVB) for quality-of-service in automotive and other applications with enhanced traffic shaping and packet prioritization
  • Cost-effective 2D and 3D graphics processing unit (GPU) for enhanced HMI development
  • Flexible boot options, including support for quad SPI and raw NAND, and a memory controller that interfaces to both DDR3 and low power DDR2
  • Smart integration of standard system interfaces, including multiple interface options for UI and wireless connectivity to provide system design flexibility and low overall BOM

Freescale cites a Strategy Analytics reports claiming shipments of the i.MX6 in the automotive segment grew more than 50 percent from 2012 to 2013. Freescale is said to be the second ranked application processor in the automotive market.

Freescale offers a number of processors for the automotive market, including the i.MX6, its Qorivva 32-bit microcontroller unit (MCU), its S12 MagniV mixed-signal MCU, its Xtrinsic sensor chips, and various analog chips. It also offers its Vybrid R SoC, a close cousin to the Vybrid F SoC aimed at the general embedded market.

The Vybrid SoCs similarly combine ARM and Cortex-M4 cores, along with 1.5MB SRAM. Instead using of Cortex-A9 cores, however, they adopt slower 500MHz Cortex-A5 cores that support “entry-level” IVI systems, according to Freescale.

Freescale Vybrid F series SoC block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

Like the upcoming i.MX6, the Vybrid SoCs are supported with Linux and MQX BSPs for the ARM and Cortex-M4 MCU cores, respectively. The Vybrid F has been used in products such as the Toradex Colibiri VF61 and iWave Rainbow-G16M-µMXM computer-on-modules.

Freescale’s Linux- and Android-ready Wearables Reference Platform (WaRP) module is a more macro-scale example of Freescale’s experimentation with Cortex-A and Cortex-M4 hybridization. Due to ship this quarter, the community backed WaRP COM is based on the single-core SoloLite version of the i.MX6. However, it incorporates a daughter card equipped with a Cortex-M4-based Kinetis MCU.

“Freescale has leveraged its experience and deep understanding of microcontrollers, microprocessors and heterogeneous SoC design to deliver yet another industry first,” stated Rajeev Kumar, worldwide director of marketing and business development for Freescale’s MCU business.

Further information

Alpha samples of the expanded i.MX6 SoC are available now, with full production and a SABRE development board expected in Q4 2014. More information may eventually appear on Freescale’s i.MX6 product page, which also includes information on Freescale’s various automotive platforms.

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