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ARM Cortex-A8 chips target lower-cost e-readers

Jul 11, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 6 views

Freescale Semiconductor announced three ARM Cortex-A8 SoCs (systems on chip), aimed at e-readers with either LCD or E Ink displays. The i.MX502, i.MX503, and i.MX507 include 800MHz, USB host and On-The-Go controllers, and 10/100 Ethernet interfaces.

Again based on ARM's popular Cortex-A8 core, the i.MX502, i.MX503, and i.MX507 are simplified versions of the i.MX508 Freescale launched in March 2010. At the time, the latter was the first SoC to integrate a "Vizplex" controller for E Ink Corporation's electrophorescent (EPD) displays, used in popular e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle.

Freescale claimed the i.MX508's integrated EPD controller, plus its dual USB controllers and Ethernet, could save product designs as much as 50 percent in their overall BOM (bill of materials). It also touted the SoC's support for OpenVG 1.1, capable of accelerating Flash and other multimedia.

On the cost-reduced i.MX502, i.MX503, and i.MX507, both the EPD controller and the Open VG support are optional. This appears to be both a nod toward the market for inexpensive e-readers with standard LCD displays, and a recognition of the fact that E Ink displays can't refresh themselves fast enough to do video or animation anyway.

A block diagram of Freescale's i.MX50 processors
(Click to enlarge)

The i.MX507, for example, is identical to the i.MX508 in having the EPD controller, but it drops Open VG support. (Also, like the other two new SoCs, it comes only in a 17 x 17mm 400MAPBGA package with 0.8mm pitch, whereas the i.MX508 is offered both in this size and in a 13 x 13mm 416MAPBGA package with 0.5mm pitch, according to Freescale.)

The i.MX503, on the other hand, drops the EPD controller but retains Open VG. And the i.MX502 includes neither Open VG nor EPD, but does, like the other models, have an LCD controller that can support displays up to 1400 x 1050 pixels.

The i.MX502, i.MX503, and i.MX507 all clock their Cortex-A8 cores at 800MHz, additionally offering Neon coprocessors and 258KB of second-level cache. All feature 10/100 Ethernet, USB host and On-The-Go interfaces, plus support for LP-DDR2 memory, raw NAND flash as well as SD, SDIO, and MMC-based media, according to Freescale.

Freescale also announced a new MC34708 power-management IC it says can be used with the i.MX50 family as well as the i.MX53 product line. This device is said to incorporate:

  • an integrated dual-input switching charger allowing for "faster charge time from either direct input supply or USB input"
  • an integrated mini/micro-USB switch that allows for porting of audio, UART and USB through a single connector
  • a coulomb counter
  • a general purpose 10-bit ADC
  • a real time clock with backup battery and charger
  • indicator LED drivers
  • and six GPIO ports

Finally, Freescale is offering two different hardware evaluation kits for those wanting to develop products with the i.MX50 processors. The i.MX50 Evaluation Kit is a board that includes the SoC of choice, the above-mentioned MC34708, 512MB of RAM, two SD sockets, an HDMI output, and an expansion connector for EPD or LCD display add-ons, the company says.

Freescale's i.MX50 Evaluation Kit
(Click to enlarge)

The i.MX50 Evaluation Kit (above) further includes a headphone jack, USB host and On-The-Go connectors, an Ethernet port, a SIM socket, a JTAG connector, and a Mini PCI Express slot, according to Freescale. It comes with a Linux boot image preinstalled on an SD card, plus a VMWare Player image "allowing those with Windows PCs to bypass the typical setup of a standard Linux-based development system," the company adds.

The company's SABRE (Smart Application Blueprint for Rapid Engineering) platform for e-readers, meanwhile, comes with the i.MX507 or i.MX508, the MC34708, 512MB of RAM, two SD sockets, an EPD board, and a three-axis accelerometer. The device again features a headphone jack, USB host and On-The-Go connectors, an Ethernet port, a SIM socket, a JTAG connector, and a Mini PCI Express slot, according to Freescale.

Freescale's i.MX50 Evaluation Kit
(Click to enlarge)

Freescale says the SABRE platform (above) also includes a Linux operating system installed on an SD card. An Android BSP (board support package) is also available, the company adds.

Further information

According to Freescale, the i.MX508 is in production now, while the i.MX502, i.MX503, and i.MX507 are currently sampling. The new chips will be available in volume in the third quarter of this year, priced starting at approximately $10 for the i.MX502, the company adds.

The i.MX50 Evaluation Kit will be available for approximately $500, while the SABRE platform for e-readers will cost $998, Freescale says.

Further information may be found on the i.MX50 product page and i.MX50 data sheet [PDF format].

Jonathan Angel can be reached at [email protected] and followed at

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