Freescale has played a pivotal role in the e-reader industry from the very first Sony e-Reader to the modern day Amazon Kindle Voyage. Their processors and internals allow e-paper to truly shine and directly impact everything from page turns to battery life. Today, Freescale has just announced the future of e-reader tech, IMX 7.
The IMX 7 Dual (1 GHZ) and IMX 7 Solo Lite (800 MHZ) are two new processors that will power the e-reader industry for the next four years.
The main attraction of the new product line is the dual core processor and how e-readers will basically take a huge jump forward in terms of overall performance, while remaining future proof.
The IMX 7 Dual will be the saving grace of e-readers, it has been totally optimized for e-ink Regal and whatever new technologies that are released by E INK in the future.
Why is this important? Page turn speed will be dramatically increased. In the past this mechanism was handled by software, which prevented companies like Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo from taking a big step forward in innovation. Now, page turns are handled by the hardware itself.
The rate in which page turn speeds occur heavily depend upon the waveform that the e-Reader uses. The update times can range between 125 mSec – 500 mSec. By integrating the REGAL waveform support in hardware, Freescale are taking away any additional time that would be added due to Algorithm processing on the Cortex-A core, hence a savings of up to 150 mSec.
Solving the page turn program is a big step forward, but that’s not the only thing that is being remedied. Ghosting will also be solved with this framework, which is a huge deal. Normally with e-readers you will have a full page refresh every six pages or in some cases every chapter. The reason for this, is the longer the display goes without a full page refresh text gradually starts super imposing itself, which makes it difficult to read. I have never liked full page refreshes, as it breaks reading immersion. Now, this will also be fixed, which means less full page refreshes because again, its now hardware based, instead of software.
Likely the largest innovation in the IMX product line is the support for hardware dithering. This will allow e-reader companies that work with the Linux or Android platforms to be able to include animated content. This will include truly animated page turns, interactive menus and video.
The big trend in 2014 were European companies starting to adopt Android as the operating system of choice to power e-readers. Many brands empowered users to install their own e-reading apps, such as Kindle, Kobo and Nook. Sadly, all of these apps were designed for smartphones and tablets and had lots of animated page turns that really struggled with e-ink screens. The IMX 7 dual solves this and will make e-reading on Android way more viable.
Battery life has always been a big issue with e-readers. The companies who make them always are walking a fine line between developing cool features that users want and battery performance. Batteries are often one of the biggest costs when designing an e-reader, but this is no longer the case. Using the new processor framework companies can now use smaller batteries, saving on manufacturing costs and also gain 3X power efficiency vs IMX 6.
Mass production on the new IMX 7 product line will begin this November and I was told it was very likely we might see a commercial product from a big name company towards the end of the year. If Amazon, Kobo or Barnes and Noble can be first to the market with a next generation e-reader it could be game changing.
AUSTIN, Texas – June 22, 2015 – Today at the 2015 Freescale Technology Forum, Freescale introduced the i.MX 7 series – a new generation of power efficient and full featured applications processors based on its successful and broadly deployed i.MX platform. The i.MX 7 series delivers world class core power efficiency of 15.7 DMIPS/mW, a new Low Power State Retention mode (LPSR) of 250 μW and the industry’s first general purpose microprocessor family to incorporate both the ARM Cortex-A7 and the ARM Cortex-M4 cores. These technologies, together with Freescale’s new companion PF3000 PMIC, unleash the potential for dramatically innovative, secure and power efficient end-products for the wearable computing and Internet of Things (IoT) era.
The first members of the series are the new i.MX 7Solo and the i.MX 7Dual product families, which feature Cortex-A7 cores operating up to 1 GHz and a Cortex-M4 core operating up to 266 MHz. The Cortex-A7 and Cortex-M4 achieve processor core efficiency levels of 100 μW /MHz and 70 μW /MHz respectively. All of the cores can be individually power enabled to perform as needed. This performance-on-demand architecture allows the i.MX 7 series to meet bursty, high-performance needs of running Linux, graphical user interfaces, wireless stacks or other high-bandwidth data transfers with one or both of the Cortex-A7 cores. When high levels of processing are not needed, the work can be transferred to the smaller, lower powered Cortex-M4, enabling the power gating of the Cortex-A7 core.
Through the use of an advanced 28nm ultra low leakage process technology and discrete power domain architecture, the LPSR mode consumes only 250 μW, representing 48 percent power savings versus competition, while supporting DDR self-refresh mode, GPIO wakeup, and memory state retention. Creating a system with power efficient processing and low power deep sleep modes enables a new tier of performance-on-demand, battery operated devices requiring smaller batteries and becoming lighter and cheaper.
Freescale’s i.MX 7 series processors are ideal for a host of applications including wearables, secure point-of-sale equipment, smart home controls, industrial products and a vast array of innovative IoT solutions. i.MX 7 series also continues Freescale’s industry leading support for the e-Reader market via integration of an advanced, fourth-generation EPD controller.
“Freescale’s i.MX 7 series scores industry leading dynamic and static power efficiency numbers, at a fraction of competing devices,” said Ron Martino, vice president of Applications Processors and Advanced Technology Adoption for Freescale’s MCU group. “We’ve combined our ultra-low power performance-on-demand architecture and the ARM Cortex-A7 – the most energy efficient ARM processor ever developed – to deliver innovative new features like a new battery savings mode consuming only 250μW, representing a 3x improvement that minimizes wake up times without requiring Linux reboot.
High bandwidth connections are provided through a variety of interfaces such as PCIe and Dual Gigabit Ethernet with AVB support. Both of the new i.MX 7 processors support the performance and power driven range of external memories including eMMC5.0 and LowPower-DDR3, meeting higher bandwidth applications.
Exceptional security for the Internet of Tomorrow
To address increasingly stringent security requirements for Point-of-Sale and IoT applications, i.MX 7 series products integrate Elliptic Curve Cryptography technology, active tamper detection, secure boot and other hardware-enabled features that help to secure sensitive information. In addition, the i.MX 7 architecture features independently controlled and secured resource domains, which partition to isolate security threats and enable a hardware firewall.
Driving i.MX 7 power still lower: Freescale’s new PF3000 PMIC
Also debuting today at the 2015 Freescale Technology Forum is the PF3000 power management IC (PMIC), which was developed in parallel with and optimized specifically for the i.MX 7 series to provide the highest possible overall system power efficiency. With up to four buck converters, six linear regulators, RTC supply, and coin-cell charger, the PF3000 is engineered to support all specified i.MX 7 use cases and conditions. PF3000 PMIC is a fully integrated solution enabling system-level power efficiency by optimizing power delivery not just to the processor, but also to peripherals and various types of system memory resources in an overall component solution size of less than 100mm^2. The PMIC supports one-time programmable memory for controlling startup sequence and output voltages with no external components required. Best in class light load efficiency combined with user programmable Standby, Sleep/LPSR, and Off power modes maximize the i.MX 7 industry leading low power performance. Incorporated into multiple i.MX 7 reference designs and featuring a single price point extensible across multiple cores, operating frequencies and memory types, the PMIC also helps streamline development and lower overall bill of materials costs.
Freescale offers extensive enablement support for the i.MX 7 series and leverages the broad ARM ecosystem to enable customers to get to market faster. The i.MX 7 series is supported by the SABRE board for smart devices, which comes with the PF3000 PMIC, Wi-Fi 11ac/abgn, Bluetooth 4.1 and an SD card preinstalled with the Linux® operating system. Android™ OS is also available from Freescale.
Samples of the i.MX 7Solo and i.MX 7Dual applications processors are available now with full production planned for November 2015. The PF3000 PMIC is available now from Freescale and authorized distributors worldwide. Two PF3000 board designs are available now: the KITPF3000FRDMEVM evaluation board and the KITPF3000FRDMPGM programming board. For additional pricing or other information, please contact a local Freescale sales office.
About Freescale Semiconductor
Freescale Semiconductor (NYSE:FSL) enables secure, embedded processing solutions for the Internet of Tomorrow. Freescale’s solutions drive a more innovative and connected world, simplifying our lives and making us safer. While serving the world’s largest companies, Freescale is also committed to supporting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, enabling the next generation of innovators. www.freescale.com.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.