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Linux-friendly SBC mixes i.MX6 with Kintex-7 FPGA

Nov 5, 2014 — by Eric Brown 4,419 views

Micro/sys unveiled an EPIC-sized “SBC4661” SBC that combines a Freescale i.MX6 Quad SoC with a Xilinx Kintex-7 FPGA, and offers extensive camera support.

The last time we heard from Micro/sys, George W. Bush was president, and Intel still had a processor architecture called XScale. Like the circa-2008, XScale-based RCB1626 single board computer, the new SBC4661 runs Linux and uses the StackableUSB expansion interface.

(click image to enlarge)

The SBC4661 is designed for high-end security, transportation, military, industrial, communication, vision, and medical systems, says Micro/sys. Despite its EPIC form-factor footprint of 6.5 x 4.5 inches, as well as its EPIC and PC/104 compatible mounting holes, the I/O expansion interface instead adheres to StackableUSB. This ruggedized Micro/sys bus standard uses USB as a low-end I/O bus, supporting up to 16 modules in a stack, distributed both above and below the USB bus master.

Micro/sys has previously shipped two Linux-ready SBCs based on Freescale’s ARM Cortex-A8-based i.MX51 system-on-chip: the SBC5651 and the similar SBC1651, which adds a Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA. According to a Micro/sys spokesperson, the company will soon be shipping another i.MX5x SBC with enhanced vision, which is one of the company’s specialties along with FPGAs.


The new SBC4661 sticks with the hybrid ARM/FPGA approach of the SBC1651, but updates both processors. It combines a quad-core, Cortex-A9-based Freescale i.MX6 clocked to 1GHz with a Xilinx Kintex-7 FPGA. The Kintex-7 is more powerful than the Spartan-6. In addition, the 325T version, which is available here along with the 70T, 160T, and 410T models, has almost three times as many complex logic blocks and over 13x more DSP slices than the low-end Artix-7 FPGA found in the Xilinx Zynq-7020 SoC.

On the SBC4661, the Kintex-7 has its own 1GB of soldered DDR3 SDRAM, a PCIe hub, and multiple I/O connectors for user-defined off-board I/O, says Micro/sys. The FPGA can be configured in two ways. First, you can install a MicroBlaze soft processor core from Xilinx to enable the FPGA to function as a standalone processor. Alternatively, the Kintex-7 can function as a client to the i.MX6.

Micro/sys offers its own preloaded proprietary FPGA firmware, which provides read and write access between the FPGA and the i.MX6 with pre-installed drivers for the Freescale SoC. This lets the Linux OS communicate via PCIe or Wireless External Interface Module (WEIM) with the FPGA hosted GPIO, XADC, SPI, FMC bus, and DDR3 interfaces, says the company. In this mode, users can install multiple IP cores from Xilinx’s IP core library, as well as Micro/sys’s library, third party libraries, or the user’s own proprietary IP library “to enhance processing of the incoming I/O before transferring it to the host i.MX6 processor,” says Micro/sys.

SBC4661 block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The SBC4661 is equipped with 2GB of soldered DDR3 RAM supporting the i.MX6, in addition to the 1GB of soldered DDR3 available on the FPGA. The board provides 8GB NAND flash, SD/MMC and microSD slots, and a SATA 2.0 connector. Boot options include a partition of the NAND flash, the SD/MMC slot, and a dedicated allotment of 4MB SPI NOR flash.

Real-world coastline ports include dual gigabit Ethernet ports, three USB 3.0 host ports, and a mini-USB 2.0 OTG port. There’s also an HDMI port and a CVBS video input that supports NTSC or PAL via a pair of MCX plugs.

Most of the extensive I/O is made available via headers, as well as the StackableUSB connectors. Onboard display interfaces include TFT and dual LVDS interfaces with 4-wire resistive touch support, plus a MIPI DSI interface.

Cameras are supported by the CVBS inputs, as well as an onboard MIPI CSI-2 interface The Kintex-7 FPGA provides interfaces for Camera Link, Camera Link HS, and NTSC/PAL cameras. The FPGA also supports up to two CoaXPress cameras functioning as a frame grabber for the i.MX6 using interfaces such as GenICAM and OpenCV, “giving multi-tasking vision users a single board solution,” says Micro/sys. The SBC4661 offers further support for USB3Vision and GigEVision cameras.

Other onboard interfaces include audio I/O, a USB 2.0 interface, four serial ports, a CAN port, and a MediaLB (MLB) interface to MOST networks. There are also analog inputs, as well as I2C, SPI, and PWM interfaces. The board supports extended operating temperatures of -40 to 85°C.

Turnkey Linux development kit for the SBC4661

A Linux BSP with development and runtime image modes is available, and Android is supported as well. There’s also an optional turnkey Linux development kit featuring “a broad tool base” (see image above).

Summary of SBC4661 specs

Specifications listed for the SBC4661 include:

  • Processors:
    • Freescale i.MX6 Quad (4x Cortex-A9 cores @ 1GHz)
      • 1MB L2 cache
      • Vivante GC2000 3D/2D GPU
      • Video accelerator
    • Xilinx Kintex-7 FPGA (70T, 160T, 325T, or 410T models):
      • 12x 10-bit differential analog inputs
      • Up to 200x TTL I/O lines
      • 60Gbps full duplex throughput
      • PCIe and Fast Memory Bus interface to ARM
      • 5x IRQ lines to ARM for user firmware
  • Memory/storage:
    • 2GB soldered DDR3 RAM (ARM)
    • Up to 1GB usable soldered DDR3 RAM (FPGA)
    • 4MB SPI NOR flash
    • 8GB NAND flash
    • SD/MMC slot
    • MicroSD slot
    • SATA II interface (or CFast)
  • Display/camera:
    • Dual display support
    • HDMI 1.4 port
    • 24-bit TFT via 40-pin header
    • 2x LVDS via 2x 20-pin headers
    • 4-wire resistive touchscreen interface
    • MIPI DSI via 40-pin header shared with MIPI CSI-2
    • MIPI CSI-2 via 40-pin header shared with MIPI DSII
    • CVBS (composite) video input (NTSC or PAL) via 2x MCX plugs
  • Networking — 2x gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Other I/O:
    • 3x USB 3.0 host ports
    • Mini-USB 2.0 OTG port
    • USB 2.0 host interface
    • 4x RS232/RS485 (jumper configurable, 16C550-compatible) via 2x 20-pin headers
    • Audio I/O via 20-pin header (shared with CAN)
    • CAN Bus (FlexCAN 2.0B) via 20-pin header (shared with audio)
    • Analog inputs via 40-pin header
    • MediaLB (MLB) interface (150Mbps) via 20-pin header
    • I2C and SPI via StackableUSB connector
    • 3x PWM outputs
  • Other features — RTC with battery; watchdog; reset headers
  • Power — +5v ± 5%
  • Operating temperature — -40 to 85°C
  • Dimensions — 6.5 x 4.5 inches (EPIC sized)
  • Operating system – Linux BSP; also supports Android, Windows CE, VxWorks

“Xilinx is pleased to be selected as an integral component to a highly configurable vision processing system,” stated Yvonne Lin, medical and industrial imaging manager for Xilinx.

Further information

The SBC4661 is available now starting at $995 at quantities of 25, with the low-end 70T Kintex 7 model. The SBC costs $1,295 in single quantities. An optional turnkey development kit starts at $2,495. Significant OEM discounts are available, says Micro/sys. More information may be found at the SBC4661 product page.

(advertise here)

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One response to “Linux-friendly SBC mixes i.MX6 with Kintex-7 FPGA”

  1. jezra says:

    is it “friendly” enough to NOT require proprietary binary blobs for the graphics chip?

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