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i.MX7 computer-on-module may be smallest yet

May 19, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 1,975 views

Embedded Artists and Rohm have launched a 37 x 27mm COM built around an NXP i.MX7 featuring a low-power Rohm PMIC, 1GB LP-DDR3, and 8GB eMMC.

You know the Internet of Things has become “a thing” when the main selling point of a computer-on-module is the properties of its power management IC. In the case of the iMX7 Dual uCOM Board from Swedish embedded firm Embedded Artists and Japanese IC semiconductor firm Rohm, however, the module has more than its power-sipping Rohm BD71815GW PMIC going for it. Measuring a wee 37 x 27mm, the Linux-friendly uCOM also appears to be one of the smallest COMs to date built on NXP’s power-stingy i.MX7 Dual SoC.

iMX7 Dual uCOM module front (left) and back views
(click images to enlarge)

So far, Phytec’s 50 x 41mm PhyCore-i.MX7 has been the size leader, compared to other entries like the 67.6 x 36.7mm CompuLab CL-SOM-iMX7, and more recent 68 x 42mm Toradex Colibri iMX7. No dimensions were listed for the WaRP7 module announced this week by NXP and Element14, but it appears to be around the same size as the uCOM, or perhaps smaller if you don’t count the attached I/O daughter card.

Other small i.MX7 COMs, left to right: Phytec PhyCore-i.MX7, Compulab CL-SOM-iMX7, Toradex Colibri iMX7, Element14 WaRP7

If you’re choosing an IoT-oriented SoC like the i.MX7, however, power consumption may be even more important than size. The Cortex-A7-based, 800MHz to 1GHz i.MX7 is claimed to have a core efficiency level of 100 μW/MHz. Rohm suggests its BD71815GW PMIC can best exploit that sleek profile in a variety of use cases with features like dynamic voltage scaling and high conversion efficiency.

Specifically, the Rohm BD71815GW PMIC is said to deliver the following features:

  • Integrated power management supporting DVFS techniques for low power modes
  • Low power RTC
  • Battery charger with Coulomb counter for battery fuel gauging, up to 28V input voltage
  • White LED driver, 25mA, up to 26V

Interestingly, NXP generally makes a big deal of pushing its own PF3001 PMIC, which it says is designed specifically for the i.MX7. Yet, NXP apparently collaborated on the uCOM project and it offered a testimonial, with NXP VP Ron Martino stating: “It’s great to see our eco system partners working together, providing value added features and platforms that enable our end customers to quickly prototype and develop exciting new products.”

iMX7 Dual uCOM module block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The i.MX7, which can achieve up to 1GHz speeds, is here clocked to 533MHz. The SoC integrates a 200MHz Cortex-M4 microcontroller, enabling real-time processing and sensor and actuator control, and features a heterogeneous multicore architecture that helps the Cortex-A7 and Cortex-M4 cores collaborate. The i.MX7 is also notable for security features including secure boot, cryptographic acceleration and tamper detection.

The iMX7 Dual uCOM Board ships with 1GB LP-DDR3 RAM plus 8GB eMMC NAND flash for loading the available Linux or Android distributions. Unlike the WaRP7, there’s no onboard wireless. Expansion is handled via an Intel Edison-compatible 70-pin connector, and two 100-pin connectors, for 270 pins total.

The module supports dual GbE ports, as well as RGB, MIPI-DSI, and MIPI-CSI interfaces. Other I/O includes USB, OTG, CAN, PCIe, and much more. Extended temperature support is optional.

Specifications listed for the iMX7 Dual uCOM Board COM include:

  • Processor — NXP i.MX7 Dual (2x ARM Cortex-A7 cores @ 533MHz); Cortex-M4 MCU @ 200MHz; 2D image processor; NEON SIMD and VFPv4 support
  • Memory:
    • 1GB LP-DDR3 RAM
    • 8GB eMMC NAND flash (OS and bootloader)
  • Networking – 2x 10/100/1000 Ethernet controllers (requires offboard PHY)
  • Hirose Expansion connectors:
    • 70-pin DF40C connector, 0.4mm pitch, Intel Edison compatible pinning
    • 2x 100-pin DF40C connector, 0.4mm pitch
  • Multimedia I/O:
    • LCD RGB 24-bit for up to 1920 x 1080 @60Hz
    • 2x MIPI-DSI
    • 2x MIPI-CSI camera
    • 3x I2S audio
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x MMC/SD/SDIO
    • 2x USB 2.0 OTG
    • 7x UART
    • 4x I2C
    • 4x eCSPI
    • 2x CAN bus 2.0B
    • 2x 4-ch. 12-bit ADC inputs
    • PCIe x1
  • Other features – Watchdog; optional dev kit with carrier board
  • Power — 3.3V; ROHM BD71815GW PMIC
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 60°C; -20 to 85°C on request
  • Dimensions – 37 x 27mm
  • Operating system — Linux and Android BSPs; RTOS supported on Cortex-M4

iMX7 Dual uCOM Developer’s Kit

Embedded Artists offers a Developer’s Kit for the iMX7 Dual uCOM, which consists of a 165 x 104mm carrier board said to be the size of a 7-inch LCD. The kit also includes an adapter board that converts signals from the uCOM module’s connectors to the 314-pin MXM3 form factor used by the carrier. The carrier features a 12V (+/-30%) power supply and an Li-Ion battery charger.

Developer’s Kit carrier board
(click image to enlarge)

Specifications include dual GbE ports, dual USB host ports, and a USB OTG port. There are also dual CAN transceivers, which like the USB ports, offer ESD protection. The carrier is equipped with a microSD slot, as well as LVDS and RGB display interfaces and a 3.5mm audio jack with codec. The board’s HDMI and SATA ports do not appear to be supported with the iMX7 Dual uCOM module.

The uCOM carrier is further equipped with a parallel camera interface, half- and full-sized mini-PCIe slots, UARTs, and an XBee-compatible connector.

iMX7 Dual uCOM Board explained

Further information

The iMX7 Dual uCOM Board is available now at an unstated price (volume pricing is available). Pricing for the dev kit is 209 Euro ($234), which includes the COM, adapter board, cables, and operating software. More information may be found at the Embedded Artists iMX7 Dual uCOM Board product page, as well as the iMX7 Dual uCOM Developer’s Kit product page.

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