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i.MX8 Nano Cuts Multimedia Power

March 26, 2019

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Performance, power, and cost are tradeoffs—pick two out of three to optimize. With its new i.MX8M Nano application processors, NXP reduces power consumption and cost at the expense of performance—but not much. For less than 1.5W and $10, customers get an SoC with up to four Arm Cortex-A53 application CPUs, a Cortex-M7 real-time controller, a 3D GPU, and more than 1MB of internal memory. Scheduled for volume production this year, these chips will extend the i.MX8M family’s reach into low-cost embedded systems for the consumer, commercial, medical, and industrial markets.

The i.MX8M Nano family is pin compatible with the i.MX8M Mini family now in production. These processors are nearly identical except for their graphics and video features, and they conserve power by employing Samsung’s 14nm LPC technology. By contrast, the first and highest-end members of the i.MX8M family are built in TSMC’s 28nm HPC process.

The new superset design is the i.MX8M Nano Quad, which has four Cortex-A53s. Other models have only one or two A53s, and a “Lite” version of each model disables the GPU. To achieve their lower prices and power levels, Nano chips have slower A53 CPUs (1.5GHz versus 1.8GHz) and less DRAM bandwidth than their Mini forebears. They also drop Mini’s single-lane PCI Express interface and video acceleration. In return for these relatively minor compromises, we estimate they reduce power consumption by at least 25% and volume pricing by at least 33%.

NXP is targeting smart-home appliances, smart-factory machines, line-powered IoT devices, medical equipment, and other embedded systems that need better performance and stronger security than microcontrollers can provide. The models with GPUs can display sophisticated graphical user interfaces and data readouts, and the Cortex-M7 coprocessor can manage real-time tasks independently of the Cortex-A53 CPUs—even while they sleep.

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