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Hacker-friendly SBC taps NXP i.MX7, packs WiFi and BT

Mar 1, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 1,178 views

Boundary Devices has announced an I/O-rich “Nitrogen7” SBC that runs Linux on NXP’s i.MX7 SoC and features WiFi and Bluetooth wireless, plus PCIe expansion.

The Nitrogen7 is the first fully-integrated SBC we’ve seen based on the NXP i.MX7 SoC. The only other i.MX7 SBCs we’ve seen to date are sandwich-style boards that build upon computer-on-modules. These include the $275, CompuLab EVAL-SOM-iMX7, which is sold as an evaluation module combining a SB-SOM-iMX7 carrier and CL-SOM-iMX7 COM. The same goes for Phytec’s unpriced, commercial-oriented PhyBoard-i.MX7 Zeta, which piggybacks the PhyCore-i.MX7 module.

(click image to enlarge)

The Nitrogen7 is heir to the Boundary Devices Nitrogen6X SBC, and to a lesser extent the similarly i.MX6-based BD-SL-I.MX6. The latter was formerly sold by Freescale as the SABRE Lite, and made our last two hacker SBC reader surveys, barely squeezing in under the $200 limit. The BD-SL-I.MX6 was also sold as a bundle with an E-con Systems camera board.

Rear view of Nitrogen7
(click image to enlarge)

The Nitrogen7, which sells for $180 in single quantities, shifts to a single- or dual- i.MX7 SoC. The i.MX7 may not be faster than a quad-core, Cortex-A9 i.MX6, but it’s far more power efficient. It combines one or two 1GHz Cortex-A7 cores with a Cortex-M4 MCU and NXP’s PFUSE PMIC. It swaps out the earlier 3D GPU for a simpler 2D accelerator.

Both the Cortex-M4 and PMIC chips are said to be specifically exploited by the board and the Boundary Devices Yocto Project and Buildroot based Linux distribution. Linux kernel support is available on Boundary’s github repository, and Buildroot support is already included in the next branch. Yocto Project support is due within a few weeks. The Nitrogen7’s schematics can be downloaded after a free registration process.

The Nitrogen7 is slightly larger than the Nitrogen6X at 135 x 79mm, and much larger than the BD-SL-i.MX6. It ships in commercial and optional industrial temperature ranges.

The board ships with 1GB DDR3L RAM with 4GB to 64GB eMMC, plus microSD expansion. WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 are standard, compared to optional on the Nitrogen6X. There’s also a full-size mini-PCIe expansion socket, accompanied by a SIM Card slot in case you want to go cellular.

Other features include a 10/100 Ethernet port, RGB and CSI interfaces, and audio I/O. USB 2.0 host and OTG ports are available along with onboard interfaces including RS-232, RS-485, CAN, JTAG, and I2C. An RTC is also onboard.

Specifications listed for the Nitrogen7 SBC include:

  • Processor — NXP i.MX7 Solo or Dual (1x or 2x ARM Cortex-A7 cores @ 1.0GHz) Cortex-M4 MCU; 2D image processor; NEON SIMD and VFPv4 support; PFUSE PMIC
  • Memory:
    • 1GB DDR3L RAM
    • 2MB serial NOR flash
    • 4GB eMMC flash expandable to 64GB
    • MicroSD slot
  • Display/multimedia:
    • 24-bit RGB (via expansion connector)
    • Optional 7-inch touchscreen (for Qt demo)
    • MIPI-CSI camera
    • Analog mic and headphone jacks with 2W amplifier
  • Wireless — 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 4.1
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 2.0 host port
    • USB 2.0 OTG port
    • 2x RS-232
    • RS-485
    • CAN
    • 2x I2C
    • JTAG
    • SPI (via expansion connector)
  • Expansion — full-size mini-PCIe 2.0 socket, with SIM Card slot
  • Other features — RTC
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 70°C; optional -40 to 85°C
  • Dimensions — 135 x 79mm
  • Operating system — Linux (Yocto Project, Buildroot, Qt 5.5)

Further information

The Nitrogen7 is available in limited quantities selling for $180, with discount pricing available in volume. More information may be found on Boundary Devices Nitrogen7 product page.

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