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Itty bitty ARM module starts at $27, runs Linux

Dec 1, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 3,159 views

Variscite’s rugged, 50 x 25mm “DART-6UL” COM runs Linux on an i.MX6 UltraLite SoC, offers NAND, eMMC, and wireless, and starts at $27 in volume.

In April, Variscite announced the world’s smallest i.MX6 computer-on-module with its 50 x 20mm, Freescale i.MX6-based DART-MX6. At 50 x 25mm, the DART-6UL doesn’t quite match those dimensions, but it offers greater power efficiency, making it well suited for IoT applications and battery-powered devices. Variscite claims it consumes only 5mA in suspend mode.

(click images to enlarge)

The module also sells for only $27 at 1,000 pieces, compared to $69 for the DART-MX6. The DART-6UL’s low price is due in large part due to the modest nature of the Freescale i.MX6 UltraLite SoC, which has a single power-efficient, 528MHz Cortex-A7 core compared to up to four 800MHz Cortex-A9 cores on the i.MX6. The tiny UltraLite SoC, which Freescale claims to be “the smallest and most energy-efficient ARM-based processor,” has a stripped down WXGA display interface and new security, tamper detection, and power management features.

DART-6UL block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

Since its launch in May, the UltraLite has already found its way onto low-power COMs from vendors including iWave, F&S, and TechNexion. Like its competitors, Variscite’s DART-6UL is born to run Linux, in this case a lightweight distribution based on Yocto Project code. The module is also available with an evaluation kit built around a VAR-6ULCustomBoard carrier, featuring a 7-inch touch-panel (see farther below.)

DART-6UL rear with two flash options
(click images to enlarge)

The DART-6UL is equipped with up to 512MB DDR3L, 512MB NAND flash, and up to 32GB eMMC flash. Certified WiFi and Bluetooth/BLE are onboard, as well as support for dual 100Mbps Ethernet ports. It’s unclear how much RAM and flash memory are provided, or whether WiFi and Bluetooth are included, in the module’s “starting from $27” pricing.

Other interfaces are expressed via dual 90-pin connectors on the back of the module. These include USB 2.0 host and USB, analog and digital audio, an RGB display interface, and a CPI camera interface.

A variety of serial interfaces are also available. We’ve also included in our spec list several interfaces missing from the product page, but mentioned in the announcement, block diagram, and the extensive, manual-like datasheet. These include dual CAN interfaces, ADC, GPIO, and PWM.

The module runs on a low 3.3V, and is available in commercial and industrial temperature ranges. There is no support mentioned for the UltraLite’s security features.

Specifications listed for the DART-6UL include:

  • Processor — Freescale i.MX6 UltraLite (1x Cortex-A7 core @ 528MHz); 2D graphics accelerator
  • Memory:
    • 128MB to 512MB DDR3L
    • 128MB to 512MB NAND flash
    • 4GB to 32GB eMMC flash
  • Wireless — TI WiLink8 with 802.11b/g/n with MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1/BLE
  • Networking — 2x 100Mbps Ethernet controllers
  • Multimedia I/O (2x 90-pin connectors):
    • Parallel RGB (24-bit) at up to 1366 x 768
    • Analog audio — line-in, line out, digital mic-in; headphone driver
    • Digital audio — SSI (AUDMUX) with S/PDIF
    • CPI (Parallel) camera
  • Other I/O (2x 90-pin connectors):
    • SD/MMC
    • 2x USB 2.0 (1x host, 1x OTG)
    • 8x UART (up to 3.6Mbps)
    • 4x I2C
    • 4x SPI
    • 2x FlexCAN
    • GPIO, PWM, ADC
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 70°C or -35 to 85°C
  • Power — 3.3V (supply and I/O); consumes 5mA in suspend mode
  • Dimensions — 50 x 25 x 4mm
  • Operating system — Linux (Yocto Project)

VAR-DVK-6UL and VAR-6ULCustomBoard

Variscite also provides a VAR-DVK-6UL evaluation kit with a VAR-6ULCustomBoard carrier board populated with a DART-6UL module. The full kit includes a 7-inch capacitive touch-panel, power and communication cables, documentation, and a design package. The carrier is also available separately from the eval kit, without the DART-6UL module.

VAR-6ULCustomBoard (left) and block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

The 100 x 70 x 20mm VAR-6ULCustomBoard can be used as a development platform or as an end-product SBC. The board supplies dual GbE ports, a microSD slot, a USB host port, a micro-USB OTG port, and a micro-USB serial debug port. Multimedia interfaces include 24-bit RGB and 18-bit LVDS display connectors, as well as 3.5mm audio jacks, a digital microphone, and a parallel CMOS sensor interface. Resistive touch is also supported.

The carrier is further equipped with a CAN Bus interface, as well as headers or expansion connectors for RS232, JTAG, SPI, I2C, UART, PWM, and clock. The board runs on 5V DC input, and includes a socket for an RTC coin backup battery.

Further information

The DART-6UL module is available in a baseline configuration for $27 at 1,000 units. The VAR-6ULCustomBoard and VAR-DVK-6UL evaluation kit are also ready to go at undisclosed prices. More information may be found at the Variscite DART-6UL and VAR-6ULCustomBoard product pages.

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