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NXP’s “crossover” Cortex-M7 chip gains uClinux BSP

Nov 1, 2017 — by Eric Brown 6,729 views

Emcraft unveiled a uClinux BSP for NXP’s new i.MX RT1050 EVK and up to 600MHz i.MX RT chip, which NXP calls the fastest Cortex-M processor yet.

With last week’s announcement of its “crossover” i.MX RT processor, NXP further blurred the boundaries between application processors, which can run high-end OSes like Linux, and MCUs, which usually can’t. Aimed at real-time operating systems like FreeRTOS, Arm’s Mbed, and Zephyr, the Cortex-M7 based chip is incapable of running a full-fledged Linux stack. However, Emcraft has announced a BSP (board support package) for the chip built around the minimalist, Linux-based uClinux distribution. The BSP targets NXP’s i.MX RT1050 EVK board (see farther below).




With its PxP 2D acceleration and support for LCDs, CSI cameras, and multichannel audio, the i.MX is capable of driving “advanced GUIs and enhanced HMIs,” which are a stretch for even the highest end MCUs. The SoC is aimed at a variety of IoT and embedded applications including consumer appliances, HVAC systems, industrial automation, and motor control.

The i.MX RT is initially shipping in 600MHz i.MX RT1050 and 500MHz i.MX RT1020 models. The i.MX RT1020 lacks the i.MX RT1050’s PxP, LCD, and CSI support. It offers only half the SRAM and I- and D-caches compared to the i.MX RT1050, which supplies 512KB of Tightly Coupled Memory (TCM) with dual 32KB caches.

i.MX RT1050 and RT1020 basic specs
(click image to enlarge)

NXP calls the i.MX RT1050 “the highest performing ARM Cortex-M7 based device with real-time operation and an applications processor-level of functionality.” The processor features 3020 CoreMark/1284 DMIPS performance, which is claimed to be 50 percent faster than other Cortex-M7 chips and more than twice as fast as Cortex-M4 MCUs.

Real-time tasks are enhanced with an interrupt latency as low as 20 nanoseconds, which NXP says is lower than any Cortex processor in existence. A built-in DC-DC converter eliminates the need for an external PMIC, and enables an active power efficiency (CoreMark per mW) of 110 μA/MHz (full operation). This is claimed to be is 2x to 4x better than “competing MCUs solutions” and 2x to 3x better than the competing Cortex-M7 based MCUs.

i.MX RT1050 and RT1020 detailed specs (left) and i.MX RT block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

Security features include an encryption engine for AES-128, High Assurance Boot (HAB), and on-the-fly QSPI flash decryption. The platform supports 10/100 Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, BLE, ZigBee, and Thread. Other peripheral support includes USB OTG, FlexCAN, I2C, and various serial interfaces.

A 2-4 layer PCB design reduces BOM costs, says NXP. Further cost reductions are possible because developers can program external flash, including eMMC 4.5, instead of programming flash on-chip on a large MCU, says the chipmaker. The i.MX RT supports existing MCU toolchains, such as MCUXpresso, IAR, and Keil, and it’s compatible with Arduino.

NXP i.MX RT1050 EVK Board
(click image to enlarge)

The NXP i.MX RT1050 EVK Board ships with an i.MX RT1050 (MIMXRT1052DVL6A) processor, and includes 256Mb SDRAM, 512Mb Hyper Flash, an SD slot, and support for QSPI flash. Major features include a 10/100 Ethernet port and micro-USB OTG and host ports.

Parallel LCD and camera connectors are available, along with an audio codec, headphone jack, mic, speaker port, and SPDIF interface. You also get some CAN transceivers and an Arduino shield interface. A 4.3-inch, 480 x 272 capacitive touchscreen appears to be optional.

Emcraft’s uClinux BSP

Emcraft’s uClinux BSP for the NXP i.MX RT1050 EVK Board is based on Linux kernel 4.6, and ships with U-Boot v2017.09-rc1. Other features include drivers for I/O, WiFi, LCD, and more. You also get GCC 4.7 toolchain, and GDB, among other components. We were alerted to the Emcraft BSP via a CNXSoft post.

Emcraft has already posted a free Crank Storyboard GUI demo. The demo focuses on the LCD capability, “as well as securely connecting to the Linux shell on the target over SSH.”

Emcraft has long been a champion of uClinux on MCUs, and contends that it’s better than solutions such as ARM’s Mbed OS for higher end MCUs like ARM’s Cortex-M3 and -M4. uClinux can only run on higher end MCUs with built-in memory controllers that let them use an external DRAM chip to meet minimum RAM requirements.

Emcraft has previously supplied a COM and uClinux stack for Microsemi’s Cortex-M3/FPGA SmartFusion2 hybrid SoC. More recently, it has shipped uClinux BSPs for the STM32F769I Discovery board, among other targets.

Detail views for i.MX 6ULL SOM (left) and i.MX 6SoloX SOM
(click images to enlarge)

Emcraft has also released some Cortex-A based i.MX6 computer-on-modules with Yocto Linux BSPs. These include an i.MX 6ULL SOM and an i.MX 6SoloX SOM.

Further information

NXP’s i.MX RT1050 is available now starting at $2.98 in 10K quantity. The i.MX RT1020 will be available Q2 2018 for $2.18 in 10K quantity. More information may be found at NXP’s i.MX RT product page.

The NXP i.MX RT1050 EVK Board is available now for $84. More information may be found on NXP’s EVK product page and at the Digi-Key EVK shopping page.

The Emcraft uClinux BSP for the NXP i.MX RT1050 EVK Board is available for $99, which includes full source code, as well as installation, configuration and basic use support for three months after purchase. More information may be found on Emcraft’s i.MX RT BSP page.

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