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Smallest ever Linux-capable wireless i.MX6 module?

Oct 26, 2015 — by Rick Lehrbaum — 4,668 views

Mistral’s tiny “Nano SOM” runs Linux or Android on a quad- or dual-core Cortex-A9 i.MX6 SoC, and offers built-in WiFi and BT, plus extensive multimedia I/O.

Bangalore, India-based Mistral Solutions, a long-time supplier of hardware and software development kits for TI’s OMAP and Sitara SoCs, will soon ship a tiny new module based on Freescale’s i.MX6 SoCs that’s being promoted as the “smallest ever SOM” (system-on-module). Although the “smallest ever” claim is a stretch, in our estimation (more on that farther below), the 44 x 26mm Mistral “Nano SOM” does indeed appear to be one of the tiniest Linux- or Android-capable modules with on-board wireless that we’ve encountered. And it’s also loaded with numerous multimedia and other I/O interfaces.

Smallest ever system-on-module?

The Nano SOM is based on Freescale’s ubiquitous quad- or dual-core, Cortex A9-based, i.MX6 system-on-chip, which has become a mainstay of embedded systems and Internet of Things applications. In addition to benefiting from the SoC’s high functional integration, Mistral module design conserves board real estate by incorporating a PoP (“package-on-package”) version of the i.MX6 SoC that adds 1GB LPDDR2 of RAM, piggybacked atop the SoC.

Mistral Nano SOM
(click image to enlarge)

Besides the i.MX6 SoC and its 1GB of PoP RAM, other key active components on the tiny Nano SOM include 4GB of eMMC flash, a combination WiFi/Bluetooth module, and a PMIC power management controller chip. Although Freescale’s i.MX6 Quad and Dual SoCs generally support CPU clock rates of up to 1.2GHz, the PoP SoCs versions used on the Nano SOM are limited to 800MHz, according to Mistral.

Nano SOM block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

A pair of high density connectors on the Nano SOM’s underbelly interface all of the module’s I/O and control signals and power with Mistral own “VISE” development baseboard (see farther below), or with an end product’s custom designed application-specific baseboard. These signals include LVDS, MIPI CSI and DSI, HDMI, USB 2.0 Host and OTG ports, PCIe, audio, SPI, I2C, GPIO, UART, JTAG, and PCIe 2.0, among others, as indicated on the block diagram above.

Mistral expects its Nano SOM to be used as a core component within next generation “products like biometric devices, drones, wearable computers, medical electronic devices, security or personal cameras, and other smart gadgets requiring small package and high processing power.”

Specifications listed by Mistral for the Nano SOM include:

  • Processor — i.MX6 Quad/Dual ARM Cortex-A9 SoC (PoP versions) @ 800MHz
  • Memory/storage:
    • 1GB LPDDR2 (PoP-mounted on the SoC)
    • 4GB eMMC flash
    • 4-bit SD/MMC (via board-to-board connectors)
  • Wireless — onboard WiFi + Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE) combination module
  • I/O signals (expressed via the board-to-board connectors):
    • Display — LVDS; MIPI DSI; HDMI
    • Network Interface — RGMII
    • USB — 1x USB 2.0 Host; 1x USB 2.0 OTG
    • Camera — MIPI CSI2; 8-Bit parallel camera
    • PCI Express — 1x PCIe 2.0 x1 lane
    • Serial buses — I2S, SPI
    • GPIO and PWM
    • Debug — JTAG; serial console UART
  • Power:
    • Input — 3.7V DC (consumption TBD)
    • PMIC support for power sequencing
  • Operating temperature — (TBD)
  • Weight — 7gm
  • Dimensions — 44mm x 26mm
  • Operating systems — Yocto Project Linux BSP with X-loader and uBoot; Android KitKat

VISE development platform

Mistral offers a ready-to-use “VISE” development platform that’s meant to simply the process of evaluating its Nano SOM, and developing applications based on it.

VISE development platform with and without Nano SOM
(click images to enlarge)

The VISE board comes with the Nano SOM pre-integrated, and provides additional circuitry and connectors to make all of the Nano SOM features available for easy and immediate access. It also includes DC power conversion and signal conditioning subsystems.

VISE development platform block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

As shown in its block diagram, the VISE baseboard adds a microSD slot, NOR flash, LCD backlight and touch support, a Gigabit Ethernet PHY and magnetics, and sensors for 9-axis MEMS, temperature, and ambient light. The 120 x 105mm board also supplies I/O connectors for interfaces including USB 2.0 Host and OTG, LVDS and HDMI display outputs, camera inputs, audio inputs and outputs, and debug ports.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the tiniest Linux module of them all?

Over the years we’ve seen various claims of “world’s smallest” COMs. Let’s take a look at a few from our archives, sorted from smallest to largest.

Freescale SCM-i.MX6D — 17 x 14mm, 238mm2 — IoT module that runs Linux or Android on an 800MHz i.MX6 Dual SoC, and includes a PMIC and up to 2GB of RAM — details
Vonger VoCore — 25 x 25mm, 625mm2 — runs OpenWRT Linux on a MIPS-based Ralink RT5350 SoC and had a very successful funding campaign on Indiegogo — details
Variscite DART-4460 — 52 x 17mm, 884mm2 — runs Linux or Android a 1.5GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 based TI OMAP4460 SoC, is available with up to 1GB of DDR2 RAM and 8GB eMMC flash, and can run at 400MHz on only 44mA — details
Intel Edison — 35.5 x 25mm, 888mm2 — IoT module that runs Linux on an Intel “Tangier” SoC that mixes a dual-core Atom with a Quark chip — details
eInfochips Eragon 410 — 35 x 26mm, 910mm2 — runs Linux or Android on a quad-core Snapdragon 410, and offers 8GB eMMC and wireless I/O — details
Variscite DART-MX6 — 50 x 20mm, 1000mm2 — runs Linux or Android on a Freescale i.MX6 SoC, with onboard WiFi and up to 64GB eMMC flash and -40 to 85°C support — details
Mistral Nano SOM — 44 x 26mm, 1144mm2 — runs Linux or Android on a quad- or dual-core Cortex-A9 i.MX6 SoC, and offers built-in WiFi + Bluetooth, along with extensive multimedia and other I/O — details
TechNexion PICO-IMX6 — 40 x 34mm, 1360mm2 — runs Linux on Freescale’s Cortex-A7 i.MX6 UltraLite SoC, and can plug into an Intel Edison IoT module carrier — details
Onion Omega — 58 x 28mm, 1624mm2 — IoT module that runs OpenWRT Linux on Atheros AR9331 SoC and features a dock, stackable expansion modules, cloud service, and web app tools — details

For further information

The Nano SOM is just now entering production and is expected to begin shipping within six to eight weeks. The VISE development platform, which includes the Nano SOM pre-installed, is currently listed for $784 at with immediate availability. OEM pricing for the Nano SOM modules outside of the VISE dev kit is dependent on quantities ordered, and not publicly listed. More details are available at Mistral’s Nano SOM and VISE development platform product pages.

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One response to “Smallest ever Linux-capable wireless i.MX6 module?”

  1. Bob says:

    All of the i.MX6 modules from KaRo Electronics are smaller than the Nano SOM, and their Eval Kit is less expensive. More info:

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