Freescale Semiconductor held private showings of its i.MX515 multimedia applications processor which, it claims, offers high performance processing that is optimised for the lowest power consumption. It features Freescale's power-efficient implementation of the ARM Cortex A8 core, which operates at speeds up to 1GHz, as we reported last week..
Freescale combined with Pegatron, the original design manufacturer (ODM) arm of Asus, had two prototype netbook computers and a prototype nettop box in their suite at CES.
A netbook is a newer type of laptop computer, defined by size, price, horsepower, and operating system. They are small, cheap, and run either Linux (most often Canonical’s Ubuntu), Microsoft’s Windows CE, Google’s Android, or an older, less well-known operating system. Netbook’s generally do not run Windows XP Professional, Vista, or Apple’s OS X. However, if the Intel Atom X86 CPU is used, they can run a seriously trimmed down version of Windows XP. Size-wise, netbooks have a less than 10-inch screen, weigh from 1.5 to 3 pounds, and use keyboards sized from 80 percent to 95 percent of a normal notebook keyboard.
A nettop is simply a motherboard with an enclosure into which cabling plugs in. There is no display screen, nor a keyboard or mouse as part of the original manufacturer’s shipping box. They rely on TV screens for their display, and a borrowed desktop keyboard and mouse.
The low price is the prime motivator for these designs. Intel backed the platform with their Atom processor, which we wrote about last fall while at the Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco.
Freescale and Pegatron are projecting $199 for the Netbook and less than $140 for the Nettop unit. Freescale’s solution uses their new i.MX515 processor featuring ARM Cortex A8 technology and a new power management IC from Freescale, the SGTL5000 ultra low-power audio codec and Adobe Flash Lite software, which is Adobe’s Flash Player for mobile phones and devices.
Jason Jacob, Freescale’s original Product Manager, said that “our design goal was to give the ODMs the tools to build a less than $200 retail netbook computer.” He continued, “our platform’s design has the proprietary components to power the display of 720p video and work with 3G or WiFi communication networks.”
Steve Sperle, Freescale’s Director of Business Development, explained the power of Freescale’s new i.MX515 CPU. The CPU is based 65-nm process technology and provides up to 2100 Dhrystone MIPS. It can scale in performance from 600MHz to 1GHz. Advanced power management features included in the i.MX515 processor, such as a dedicated, hardware-based video acceleration block, allow for extended battery life and eliminate the need for fans or heat sinks.
Their i.MX515 has a memory interface supporting both DDR2 and mobile DDR1. While mobile DDR1 is ideal for the most power sensitive mobile Internet devices, DDR2 is better suited for netbooks because of lower power consumption at a much better price point. The i.MX515 offers support for both. Many competing Cortex-A8 platform options available today only offer mobile DDR1, limiting designers’ options to maximize cost savings.
Jacob explained that the i.MX51 is one of the few processors to offer both OpenVG and OpenGL graphics cores, thereby enabling 2D and 3D graphics as well as Flash and SVG for enhanced user graphics. Video created for the Adobe Player is one of the leading video formats on the Internet today. Working with Adobe, Freescale plans to enable the Adobe software to run on the processor’s dedicated OpenVG graphics block. Jacob said this will extend battery life and enable netbook web browsing like those on traditional PCs.
Sperle said that a key component of Freescale’s netbook solution is the new MC13982 power management IC. Integrating a variety of discrete functions into a single device, the MC13982 contributes to reduced size and weight of end products while extending their battery life through innovative power management and control features. The device incorporates a battery charging system, four adjustable buck converters for powering the processor core and memory, two boost converters for LCD backlighting, and RGB LED displays along with serial backlighting drivers for display and keypad.
According to analyst firm ABI Research, consumers are expected to purchase 140 million netbooks in 2013, compared with only 15 million sold in 2008. Often priced between $300 and $400 (USD), netbooks are streamlined, embedded devices that provide more than enough performance for a host of Internet-based activities such as social networking, surfing the Web, using e-mail and other common tasks.
Volume production for Freescale’s i.MX515 device is planned for Q2 2009 to power netbooks designed for the 2009 holiday shopping season. We expect the Pegatron reference design will become a leading contender in the netbook marketplace. X