Electronic Design
Design Your Own Tablet

Design Your Own Tablet

Freescale's i.MX line of ARM-based multimedia processors has found a home in a wide range of application areas from mobile devices to automotive media head units. Freescale's i.MX53 based on an ARM Cortex-A8 is one of the latest platforms that now has a pair of new development kits including the Smart Application Blueprint for Rapid Engineering (SABRE) platform for tablets (Fig. 1) and the i.MX53 Quick Start board (Fig. 2).

The i.MX53 (Fig. 3) lends itself to multimedia applications with a GPU that supports OpenGL and OpenVG. It has an image processing unit (IPU) with a camera interface and features like blending, rotation and image enhancement. There is built-in security support based on Freescale's TrustZone technology.

Applications created using these i.MX53 development platforms could be deployed using the 800MHz industrial i.MX537 with 3.3 V I/O support, a 0.8 mm pitch package, plus an extended temperature range (-40 C to +85 C). There is also the new i.MX538 package-on-package (PoP) solution with a Cortex-A8 processor that runs at 1GHz. The 12mm x 12mm PoP chip supports LPDDR2 with optional support for MMC/SD flash memory in the stack. This is the same kind of technology employed in the Apple iPad (see Inside The Apple iPad).

The i.MX53 Quick Start board is priced at $149. The SABRE platform for tablets is priced at $1499.

The Quick Start board is compact and economical while the SABRE is a bit more than an Apple iPad or a Motorola Xoom. Then again, this is a development kit designed to be opened, enhanced and debugged. The tablet is based ona 1GHz i.MX53 with a 10.1-inch VGA multitouch LCD screen. It also includes the usual tablet features like an Omnivision OV5642 5MP camera, an Atheros GM22 GPS Receiver, an Atheros AR6003 Wi-Fi + AR3001 BT Module, and an optional Infineon Amazon-1 3G module. Freescale hardware in the tablet also includes MMA8451Q 3-axis accelerometer, a MAG3112 magnetic sensor, a MC1323x transceiver, and a SGTL5000 audio codec. The tablet also contains 1 Gbyte of DDR3 DRAM and 8 Gbytes of eMMC storage. A 32 Gbyte SanDisk SSD is optional.

Unlike the original Apple iPad, the SABRE tablet has a host of connections including HDMI, audio and LVDS. It also has a full size SD card slot, two High-Speed USB ports and a Micro-USB port. There is also a SATA port and debug module socket. The module has Ethernet 10/100, JTAG and a serial port.

Freescale i.MX53 Quick Start Board

i.MX53 Quick Start board has more real estate dedicated to the plethora of plugs and sockets than chips so any end product can be very compact. It includes a header for devices like an LCD display (Fig. 4). The board exposes all the peripheral interfaces on the i.MX53 including 10/100 Ethernet, VGA, LVDS, HDMI (requires an expansion card) and a camera interface. It also has the Freescale accelerometer. There is 1 Gbyte of DDR3 DRAM on-board.

The SABRE and i.MX53 Quick Start board come with Linux and Android. There is support for Windows Embedded Compact 7 from Adeneo Embedded. Freescale provides a range of 720p and 1080p codec support. The platforms are supported by a range of third parties including Segger/CodeSourcery, Macgraigor, and IAR. It is supported by Mentor Embedded's Inflexion UI as well. I am looking forward to checking out the VMware player image that should make initial development easier.

I'll be doing a hands on review of these platforms in the future so keep an eye out for those articles.

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