Freescale unveils i.MX 6 quad-core ARM chip

Low-power semiconductor specialist Freescale has officially taken the wraps off its i.MX 6 series, offering up to four ARM Cortex-A9 cores running at up to 1.2GHz in a single SoC package.

Designed for embedded, mobile, and tablet markets, the new processor line is made up of three models: the i.MX 6Solo, 6Dual, and 6Quad. The difference between them, in case you couldn't work it out, is the number of processing cores: one, two, or four.

In all cases, the cores are Cortex-A9 designs from British chip giant ARM, clocked at up to 1.2GHz and featuring the ARMv7 instruction set, Neon general-purpose SIMD engine, the VFPv3 floating-point architecture, and support for ARM's Trustzone secure computing technology.

The i.MX 6 series includes 32KB each for instruction and data L1 caches, while offering 256KB L2 cache in the single-core model rising to 1MB in the i.MX 6Dual and 6Quad products. All models include a 3D acceleration engine featuring quad shaders and a performance measured at 200Mt/s, along with a multi-stream capable HD video engine offering 1080p60 decode and 1080p30 encode.

Impressively, the video playback is achieved in a tiny 350mW, according to Freescale's measurements. Encoding, however, is likely to bump up the power draw signficantly.

As befits a system-on-chip design, the i.MX 6 series packs plenty of IO: HDMI 1.4, SD 3.0, USB 2.0, gigabit Ethernet, SATA 3.0Gb/s, PCI Express, MIPI CSI, DSI, and HSI, are all included as standard, along with FlexCAN for embedded automotive applications. An optional electrophoretic display controller for eReader devices is also available, Freescale has confirmed.

Camera support is included via the MIPI CSI connectivity, and Freescale has confirmed that the chip will include the ability to interface with stereoscopic imaging devices for 3D still and video capture. Potentially, that will allow the creation of affordable smartphones and tablets featuring impressive 3D visuals, although the cost of an autostereoscopic display to pair with the chip could still be a prohibitive factor.

While the specifications of Freescale's i.MX 6 series seem impressive enough, the quad-core model is going to have some serious competition: Nvidia has confirmed that it is on-track to launch Kal El, a quad-core ARM-based SoC design packing a 12-core GeForce GPU for impressively powerful graphics, in August this year.