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i.MX515 targets Linux netbooks

Jan 5, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 45 views

[Updated: 5PM] — Freescale Semiconductor is sampling a system-on-chip (SoC) expected to compete with Intel's Atom processor in the netbook market. Offered with an Ubuntu Linux-based reference design from Pegatron, the i.MX515 uses ARM's Cortex-A8 core clocked from 600MHz to 1GHz, and targets sub-$200 netbooks that offer eight-hour battery life.

The i.MX515 is the first of a series of i.MX51 SoCs to be announced in the coming months that will target a variety of mobile platforms, including automotive and general embedded versions, said a Freescale spokesperson. The netbook-specific i.MX515 is the first ARM-based processor to directly target the sizzling market for netbooks. The SoC will target lower-end netbooks with 8.9-inch displays that run Ubuntu Linux.

While ceding some software compatibility, netbooks based on i.MX515 should offer longer battery life, says Freescale. Performance may also lag a bit behind Atom-based systems, as Freescale is claiming 2100 Dhrystone MIPS (DMIPS) for a 1GHz netbook. Intel's top netbook chip, the N270, usually turns in about 4000 DMIPS, when clocked at 1.6GHz.

Built around the Cortex-A8 core, the i.MX515 offers a dedicated, hardware-based video acceleration block that “enables extended battery life and eliminates the need for fans or heat sinks,” says the company. The SoC offers graphics cores for both OpenGL and OpenVG, with the latter enabling Flash and SVG.

Freescale touts the i.MX515 for its flexible memory interface, which supports DDR2 as well as the mobile DDR1 memory type. According to Freescale, DDR2 is better suited for netbooks, claiming that it supports “low power at significantly less cost.” In an apparent dig at the other major Cortex-A8 SoC, the OMAP3x from Texas Instruments, Freescale notes that “competing Cortex-A8 platform options available today are limited to mobile DDR1.”

Reference design focuses on Ubuntu

The i.MX515 reference design was developed jointly with Pegatron, says Freescale. It includes a board equipped with the i.MX515, plus a SGTL5000 low-power audio codec and Freescale's new power management IC, called the MC13982, says the company. Offered with Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution, the bundle includes Adobe Flash Lite and Flash Player.

The eight-hour battery life claims appear to be based on power savings due in part to the new MC13982 IC, which is separate from the i.MX515. The MC13982 extends battery life through function integration, as well as power management and control features, says Freescale. The MC13982 is said to incorporate a battery charging system, plus four adjustable buck converters for the processor core and memory. The IC also provides two boost converters for LCD backlighting and RGB LED displays, as well as serial backlighting drivers for display and keypad.

In November, Canonical announced that it was porting Ubuntu Desktop Linux to the ARMv7 architecture, which is used by the Cortex-A8 and licensed by Freescale and TI, among others. Nokia has long sponsored an unofficial project to port Ubuntu to ARM, but with the Canonical port, ARM capabilities in the Linux kernel such as highmem support should enable compiling Ubuntu on ARM in its entirety, including OpenOffice and Java.

ARM has always had a power advantage over x86, especially in idle power use. Early devices based on Intel's most power-efficient Z5xx-series Atom processors typically last less than six hours, according to some tests. If Freescale can back up its eight hour claims, the i.MX515 would offer a significant advantage.

Stated Lisa Su, SVP and GM of Freescale's Networking and Multimedia Group, “Our solution for netbooks will enable OEMs to develop compelling products that feature cell phone-like battery life at extremely aggressive price points.”

Stated Philip Solis, principal analyst at ABI Research, “The netbook market is still in its infancy, and it represents a huge market opportunity for companies like Freescale.”


Freescale's netbook reference design, built by Pegatron, is available now, and the i.MX515 SoC and MC13982 power management ICs are sampling now to tier one netbook customers, says Freescale. (Pricing was not provided.) Volume production for the i.MX515 is expected in the second quarter, with expectations that associated netbooks will be ready for the 2009 holiday season.

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