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NXP unveils Cortex-A35 based i.MX8 variant for Azure Sphere

Jul 12, 2019 — by Eric Brown 2,308 views

NXP has announced an upcoming Cortex-A35 based i.MX8 SoC designed to run the Linux-based Azure Sphere stack. The MCU- and DSP-equipped SoC will offer reduced power consumption thanks to FD-SOI technology.

As we were reporting on the newly shipping i.MX7 ULP — a version of the i.MX7 that further reduces power consumption thanks to FD-SOI technology — we noticed an announcement last month for an unnamed i.MX8 variant that uses FD-SOI. The upcoming SoC will be optimized to run on edge-node devices that run Microsoft’s Linux-driven, ultra-secure Azure Sphere Linux distribution for IoT edge devices that communicate with its Azure cloud platform.

At the same NXP Connects event, NXP announced a new EdgeVerse brand and EdgeLock security (see farther below).


As reported by our sister publication, Circuit Cellar, NXP is collaborating with Microsoft to produce this Azure Sphere certified “crossover applications processor” due to begin sampling in Q4 2020. It will combine one or two power-efficient Cortex-A35 cores with a Cortex-M33 core with ARMv8-M and TrustZone security. There will also be an NXP HiFi4 DSP core for independent audio/video processing.

Azure Sphere OS architecture
(click images to enlarge)

NXP describes its upcoming i.MX8 SoC as a “secure, ultra-efficient, intelligent embedded processor for edge nodes that seamlessly runs Azure Sphere’s security platform while also providing multi-core heterogeneous computing, rich graphics experience, and low-power audio processing capabilities.”

NXP has already used Cortex-A35 cores in its up to quad-core i.MX8X SoC, which appears to be the first NXP chip to use Fully-Depleted Silicon-On-Insulator (FD-SOI) technology. Rockchip is using FD-SOI in its dual -A35-based, AI-enhanced RK1808 SoC.

FD-SOI is designed for the bursty operations of low-power IoT edge devices that spend most of their time in idle mode. In the i.MX7 ULP implementation, FD-SOI enables “a deep sleep suspend power consumption of 15 uW or less, 17 times less in comparison to previous low power i.MX 7 devices,” says NXP.

The i.MX7 ULP’s dynamic power efficiency is improved by 50 percent for the real time -M4 chip, claims NSP. Extreme low leakage and operating voltage (Vdd) scalability “is attained through reverse and forward body biasing (RBB/FBB) of the transistors and its smart power system.”

Azure Sphere background

Microsoft shocked the tech industry last year when it announced Azure Sphere, a highly-secure Linux distribution targeted at IoT. Azure Sphere includes a proprietary crypto/secure boot stack called the Microsoft Pluton Security Subsystem, which runs on a pair of Cortex-M MCUs. There’s also an Azure Sphere Security Service — a turnkey cloud service for secure device-to-device and device-to-cloud communication.

Azure Sphere MT3620
Development Kit

Because the Pluton subsystem is integrated in hardware, Microsoft is working with select chipmakers to produce Azure Sphere certified SoCs. The first was MediaTek, which produced a Cortex-A7/Cortex-M4F hybrid MT3620 SoC for Azure Sphere. It’s available as part of Seeed’s Azure Sphere MT3620 Development Kit.

Avnet recently announced its own Avnet Azure Sphere MT3620 Starter Kit based on the MT3620 SoC, which we hope to cover soon.

Microsoft also recently released an Azure Sphere SDK for Visual Studio. Other vendors that have shown interest in building Azure Sphere chips include Nordic, Qualcomm, ST Micro, Silicon Labs, and Toshiba.

NXP EdgeVerse and EdgeLock

NXP announced its upcoming Azure Sphere processor at NXP Connects 2019 where it also announced an EdgeVerse platform brand. EdgeVerse will be applied to pretty much all its major chips, including “NXP i.MX and Layerscape applications processors, K32, LPC and Kinetis microcontrollers, i.MX RT crossover processors, and automotive microcontrollers and processors.”

All of the EdgeVerse chips will be able to use a new EdgeLock security portfolio, as well as NXP’s eIQ machine learning software development environment, its Immersiv3D audio experience suite, and its EdgeScale device management platform.

The first EdgeLock product is the EdgeLock SE050 Plug & Trust Secure Element. The chip offers Common Criteria (CC) EAL 6+ certification and is said to “streamline the deployment of IoT services and onboarding of edge devices to public and private clouds, edge computing platforms, and infrastructure.”

Further information

The unnamed Azure Sphere certified i.MX8 variant will enter sampling in Q4 2020. More information may be found in NXP’s announcement.

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