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World’s smallest i.MX6 module tapped for customizable Linux SBC

Oct 17, 2017 — by Eric Brown 2,742 views

Gumstix has added NXP’s tiny, Linux-driven SCM-i.MX6 module to its Geppetto design library, and has launched a “Cobalt MC” SBC to showcase the tiny COM.

Gumstix continues to add more computer-on-modules and single board computers to its Geppetto D2O design library, offering more options for developers to build custom board designs online for prototyping and quick manufacture of small runs. The latest addition, following its support for the Raspberry Pi and Pi Compute Module via its Gumstix Pi boards, is support for NXP’s tiny dual-core i.MX6 based SCM-i.MX6D COM, as well as for a similar quad-core SCM-i.MX6Q.

NXP’s dime sized, IoT oriented SCM-i.MX6D
(click image to enlarge)

Gumstix has also introduced a “Cobalt MC” (Media Center) SBC to give developers a starting point for building a SCM-i.MX6 based board design within Geppetto, or for prototyping using the existing feature mix. (See farther below.)

Each of NXP’s Linux- and Android-ready SCM-i.MX6 modules measure just 17 x 14mm, making them the smallest i.MX6 modules around. The 800MHz, dual-core SCM-i.MX6D was announced in 2015 as “the world’s smallest single chip module (SCM) for the Internet of Things,” and a similar quad-core version shipped afterward. The dual-core module has appeared in InHand’s Fury-M6 COM/SBC hybrid, and both models are available from NXP with an evaluation board.


Intel Joule

Gumstix is prepping a larger COM version of the SCM-i.MX6Q as a drop-in replacement for the Intel Joule that will emulate its expansion pin layout. The Joule had previously been supported by Geppetto, and appeared in five Gumstix Joule carrier boards and the Joule-based Nodana 96BCE 96Boards CE SBC. In June of this year, Intel announced it was discontinuing the Joule, which also killed off a bunch of third-party products based on the COM, including Gumstix’s boards.

Due in early November, the Joule-compatible version of the SCM-i.MX6Q won’t be able to completely replace the Joule since the i.MX6 is ARM- instead of x86-based, and it’s slower than the quad-core Atom T5700 or T5500 SoCs on the Joule. However, the i.MX6 has always been one of the more x86-like ARM SoCs, and a module based on the SCM-i.MX6 could certainly be made small enough to slot into any design that featured the larger Joule. Defining features like MIPI-CSI are also available.

The quad-core SCM-i.MX6 appears to have an almost identical design to the Dual based model. In addition to providing the i.MX6’s 3D-ready Vivante GPU and multimedia and security coprocessors, the SCM-i.MX6 modules integrate 1MB of L2 cache and up to 1GB to 2GB of Package-on-Package (PoP) LPDDR2 RAM.

SCM-i.MX6Q (left) and SCM-i.MX6D block diagrams
(click images to enlarge)

The SCM-i.MX6 integrates a power management chip that requires only a single 4.2V supply, and which can provide power and voltage references to the entire module. There’s a power distribution network with 109 discrete, passive components, as well as several security features including cryptographic cipher engines.

Cobalt MC

If you can’t identify a COM embedded in the Cobalt MC, that’s because it looks like a dime-sized SoC mounted in the middle of the SBC. The Cobalt MC board ships with the quad-core SCM-i.MX6Q module with its four Cortex-A9 cores clocked to 1GHz. (Given the customizable nature of the Geppetto platform, you could probably easily swap this for the dual core module.)

Cobalt MC, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

The Cobalt MC ships with 1GB LPDDR2 RAM, a microSD slot, a GbE port, and a TI WiLink8 module with WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 with BLE. A U.FL antenna connector is also available. The SBC is further equipped with a USB 2.0 host port and micro-USB console and OTG ports.

Cobalt MC detail view
(click image to enlarge)

Other Cobalt MC features include a native HDMI port, headphone and mic jacks, and a 4-lane MIPI CSI-2 camera connector that Gumstix bills as an Intel Joule connector. There are also CAN, I2C, SPI, and UART headers, as well as a 38-pin expansion header. The board has a 12V input and an RTC with coin cell battery housing.

The Gumstix Cobalt MC source description is available in Geppetto, enabling any Geppetto user to copy and modify the board. Developers can quickly design and order SCM-powered hardware with variable options for network connection, communication bus, and hardware features. Users can also compare alternatives for features and costs, create multiple projects, and receive complete custom BSPs and free automated documentation. “Designers can go straight from a design to an order in one session with no engineering required,” says Gumstix.

Further information

The Gumstix Cobalt MC board is now available for $300. Geppetto customers can also start from scratch with their own SCM-i.MX6 based designs. More information may be found on the Gumstix Cobalt MC product page and on the SCM-i.MX6 Geppetto page.

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