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E Ink taps second semi firm for Linux-ready SoCs

Nov 3, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 10 views

Marvell Semiconductor announced a partnership with electronic paper display vendor E Ink, targeting joint development of processors for e-readers. Based on Marvell's new Armada SoCs (system on chips), the technology forms the basis of Android e-readers from Entourage Systems and Spring Designs and is also said to be available in turnkey platforms.

According to Marvell, which says it has been collaborating with E Ink for three years, the companies' new agreement includes joint development and cross-licensing of next-generation e-paper timing controllers and system platforms. Presently available designs are based on Marvell's new Armada 166E system-on-chip (SoC), which is part of Marvell's recently announced Armada 100 series of processors.

The Armada 166E includes an integrated electrophorescent (EPD) controller based on E Ink technology, says Marvell. The SoC offers "ultra-fast renderings of high-resolution PDF documents and support for the latest e-paper technologies in new smaller, slimmer form factors with lower system cost," says the company.

The Entourage Edge, pictured here in its various configurations, is based on the Marvell Armada/E Ink design.

The Armada 166E SoC also provides power management techniques, including a "unique hibernation mode, or zero power mode," says the company. The SoC is said to support Ubuntu and Maemo Linux, Android, Windows CE, Windows Mobile, and Adobe Flash.

FirstPaper technology targets large-screen displays

Marvell and E Ink say they are also integrating technology from start-up FirstPaper, LLC, which is said to enable a range of display sizes and resolutions, including support for larger screens. The FirstPaper technology provides "layouts, graphics, and content choices that people normally associate with periodicals, larger-format books, and documents," says Marvell.

FirstPaper will "bring a new e-reading ecosystem to market in 2010," says Marvell. We're not sure what that means, but it should be interesting — and potentially more bad news for the newspaper industry.

Armada sails with Entourage, Alex e-readers

As well as being offered in unspecified "turnkey platforms," the new Armada-based e-reader chipset forms the basis of two recently announced Android-based e-readers, says Marvell: Entourage Systems' Entourage Edge pictured above), and Spring Design's Alex, pictured below, right. Both designs are due in the first quarter.

Like Barnes and Noble's new Nook e-reader, the new Armada/E Ink-based devices feature an E Ink grayscale display for reading along with a secondary, Android-driven touchscreen display. Whereas the Nook's Android interface appears to be dedicated to interaction with the B&N online store, the Entourage Edge and Alex offer larger screens with full Android interfaces, including web browsing and hyperlink interaction with the e-reader interface.

A Freescale follow-up

This is E Ink's second major agreement in recent weeks with an ARM licensing semiconductor firm, after its announcement that it was joining with Freescale Semiconductor to jointly develop SoCs integrating Freescale's i.MX processor with E Ink's Vizplex display controller.

Amazon's market-leading Kindle and Kindle 2 (pictured at left), plus most other recent e-readers, use EPD displays sourced from E Ink Corporation. These displays offer a bright, high-contrast, thin, lightweight display technology that remains legible under "any lighting condition" — much like newsprint. Once an image has been "printed," no power is needed to hold it, reducing energy requirements by 99 percent compared to LCDs, E Ink claims.

While EPD displays substantially extend battery life, they are not supported directly by the ARM-based SoCs employed in e-readers. As a result, separate Vizplex display controller ICs have been required, such as the Epson S1D13522 jointly developed by E Ink and Epson. (Introduced only last month, the 10 x 10mm S1D13522 is said to cost $20 in sample quantities, include 2MB of embedded memory, and improve on previous EPD controllers by including onboard touch/pen support.)

Now, E Ink-compatible EPD controllers will be built directly into selected models of both Freescale's i.MX and Marvell's Armada families. Marvell announced its Armada processors the day before the Freescale/E Ink announcement last month. At the time, we noted that a chart reproduced by indicated that an EPD controller was built into Marvell's Armada 166E, and speculated that Marvell had entered into an agreement with E Ink similar to the Freescale deal.


Stated Gil Fuchsberg, President of FirstPaper, "Periodicals are the next big frontier in e-reading. To enable great newspaper and magazine reading experiences, e-reading devices need the right tools to make richer layouts and complex content come to life. We're excited to be working with Marvell to bring such tools to the market."

Stated Albert Teng, Founder and CTO at Spring Design, "During our development of the Alex Reader — a dual screen e-reader that incorporates both e-ink for high contrast e-reading, and color LCD screen for multimedia playback and enhanced Web browsing, Marvell was the clear choice."

Stated Asghar Mostafa, President and CEO of Entourage Systems, "The Armada 166E gives the Entourage Edge the power it needs to meet people's multiple, yet simultaneous digital needs, at an attractive price point within reach of all consumers."

Stated Weili Dai, Marvell's Co-founder and VP/GM of the company's Consumer and Computing Business Unit, "Because this is a total platform solution — including Marvell key technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G modem, and power management — the Armada e-reader has the potential to deliver the first mass market product accessible and affordable to billions of consumers around the world."

Samsung preps slim, 10.1-inch e-reader

In other E Ink-related e-reader news, Samsung Electronics demonstrated a 10.1-inch color e-reader prototype in Japan last week, says a story in Nikkei Electronics, which published the photo at right. Samsung was said to have demonstrated the large e-reader at the FPD International 2009 show last week at Pacifico Yokohama in Yokohama City.

Due to ship in one or two years, the 600 x 450-pixel device is said to integrate a glass TFT substrate, E Ink's e-paper technology, and a color filter. The prototype is 0.7mm thick, with a contrast ratio of 10:1 and a reflectance of 12 percent, says the story. The slim design is said to be due to the integration of gate ICs on the TFT substrate.


The Marvell/E Ink e-paper platform based on the Armada 166E appears to be available now to OEMs, with consumer products such as the Entourage Edge and Alex e-readers due in the first quarter of 2010. More information may be found at Marvell's website, here.

The Nikkei Electronics story on the Samsung e-reader prototype should be here.

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