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Freescale's popular i.MX6 SoC sprouts a Cortex-M4 MCU

Feb 24, 2015 — by Eric Brown 5,537 views

Freescale added a “SoloX” SoC to its Cortex-A9 i.MX6 family, featuring a Cortex-M4 MCU, plus new security, power management, and GbE bridging features.

The hybrid CPU/MCU i.MX6 SoloX system-on-chip design resembles Freescale Semiconductor’s earlier Vybrid F Series SoC, which pairs a Linux-ready Cortex-A5 core with a Cortex-M4 based Kinetis MCU running Freescale’s MQX RTOS. The SoloX also incorporates a Cortex-M4 running MQX, clocked at 200MHz, which is touted for its deterministic, real-time responsiveness. But instead of the Vybrid’s Cortex-A5 CPU, the i.MX6 series SoCs pack a 1GHz Cortex-A9 core that runs Linux or Android.

Freescale Vybrid F (left) and i.MX6 SoloX block diagrams
(click images to enlarge)

The i.MX6 SoloX SoC is otherwise based on the single-core i.MX6 Solo version of the popular i.MX6 family of Cortex-A9 SoCs, which is also available in dual- and quad-core versions. However, it offers some new security and core management features found in neither the i.MX6 nor the Vybrid.

The chipmaker first tipped the design in Oct. 14, 2013 with a short video about “Next Gen i.MX6 Series Processor Featuring ARM Cortex-A9 and Cortex-M4 Cores.” A May 2014 post to the Linux kernel mailing list announced the addition of support for the i.MX6 SoloX to the Linux kernel, and noted that the new SoC features “audio video bridging (AVB) for quality-of-service in automotive and other applications with enhanced traffic shaping and packet prioritization.”

Earlier Freescale presentation slides about the i.MX6 SoloX
(click images to enlarge)

The i.MX6 SoloX is designed for secure connected home, Internet of Things, and connected vehicles applications, says Freescale. Yet, automotive appears to be the main focus here. The chipmaker goes on to say that the i.MX6 SoloX is well-suited for display-centric automotive applications, and it notes that since it’s available in a version without a GPU, it can also be used in lower cost, headless packages for automotive telematics and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) applications.


The fact that the 3D-ready Vivante GC400Ts GPU is optional is probably why Freescale’s presentation slides (shown above) position the SoloX between the SoloLite, which has a lower-quality Vivante GPU, and the Solo in terms of overall i.MX6 hierarchy. It’s unclear how the Vivante GC400Ts stacks up with the Vivante GC880 available on the Solo.

Efus A9x COM

Today, F&S Elektronik Systeme announced an Efus A9X computer-on-module that integrates the SoloX. The COM uses an MXM-based “Efus” form-factor. It runs Yocto Linux, and Android is said to be in the works. It also runs Windows WEC, which Freescale does not mention in its SoloX announcement.

The i.MX6 SoloX offers security features such as advanced secure boot and protected data storage. It also incorporates cryptographic cipher engines and a configurable resource domain controller that allows peripherals to be locked or shared by the CPU cores. A secure messaging semaphore unit works with the domain controller to enable cooperative, multi-OS software to safely access shared peripherals, says Freescale. This might be particularly useful in automotive applications.

The SoC’s discrete CPU core power domains enable independent power state control and low current draw with fast wakeup times from sleep modes, says Freescale. The “system-aware” architecture can completely shut down the Cortex-A9 core, even while the Cortex-M4 performs low-level system monitoring tasks, thereby improving power efficiency, says the company. The SoC can be enhanced with Freescale’s i.MX6-optimized PF0200 power management IC, which is said to offer “extended light load efficiency.”

Other key features of the i.MX6 SoloX include:

  • 1GHz Cortex-A9 with 512KB L2, 32KB instruction and data caches, NEON SIMD
  • 200MHz Cortex-M4 with 16KB instruction and data caches, 64KB TCM, MPU and FPU
  • Optional Vivante GC400T with 3D/2D acceleration
  • 32-bit DDR3/LVDDR3/LPDDR2-800 memory interface from each core
  • Flexible boot options, including support for DDR QSPI and raw NAND
  • Configurable resource domain controller
  • Supports asymmetric multiprocessing (AMP)
  • Security features like TrustZone, ciphers, eFuses, RNG
  • Dual-port gigabit Ethernet audio video bridging (AVB) for quality-of-service with enhanced traffic shaping and packet prioritization
  • Multimedia I/O including 24-bit RGB, ASRC audio, S/PDIF, CSI digital camera, and optional analog camera, LVDS, and NTSC
  • Industrial I/O including FlexCAN, SPI, UART, I2C, I2S, USB 2.0 host and OTG, IEEE1588, MMC 4.4, SD 3.0, and optional ADC, MLB, and PCIe
  • Operating temperature options including -20 to 105°C (consumer @ 1GHz, -40 to 105°C (industrial @ 800MHz), and -40 to 125°C (automotive @ 800MHz)

Software and hardware development support

The i.MX6 SoloX is available with development tools and software support including Android and Linux for the Cortex-A9 core, as well as MQX OS for the Cortex-M4 core. A “SABRE development board for Smart Devices” based on the i.MX6 SoloX is available, featuring the PF0200 PMIC.

SABRE development board for the i.MX6 SoloX
(click image to enlarge)

In addition to the i.MX6 SoloX SoC, the SABRE development board provides 1GB of DDR3L RAM, 64MB of QSPI NOR flash storage, three SD card slots, mini-PCIe expansion, and connectors for LVDS, LCD, USB (OTG, host, and debug ports), camera, ADC, stereo audio, JTAG, dual gigabit Ethernets, dual CAN, and power. It also includes an on-board microphone, power and configuration switches, and a sensor package that includes a 3-axis accelerometer, digital compass, and ambient light sensor.

SABRE dev board details, top (left) and bottom
(click image to enlarge)

“The i.MX 6SoloX is providing new ways to address security, performance, scalability and power efficiency, all to help build the next generation of connected, system-aware devices for the home and vehicle,” stated Ron Martino, vice president of applications processors and advanced technology adoption for Freescale’s MCU group.

Further information

The i.MX6 SoloX SoC and related SABRE Board are now shipping in volume, with the board priced at $399 through several online retailers. More information may be found at the i.MX6 SoloX product page. The i.MX6 SoloX applications processor is being demonstrated at Freescale’s Embedded World booth, Hall 4A, Booth 4A-220, Feb. 24-26.

— with additional reporting by Rick Lehrbaum

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2 responses to “Freescale's popular i.MX6 SoC sprouts a Cortex-M4 MCU”

  1. j says:

    A very important thing about this part is that it fixes the long standing GbE problem which limited the MAC to 470 megabit

  2. Syed Usman says:

    What is the Android Version with this i.MX6 Kit?

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