Anyone taking a serious look at the embedded market really has to speak to Freescale because the whole market came about because Motorola (Freescale’s former parent) was so successful with the 68000 architecture in embedded computing boards. The good people at Freescale connected me with Alexandra (Alex) Dopplinger who is a business development manager focused on getting Freescale designed into industrial applications.
Alex told me that Freescale had a great year in 2014 with their “proven” board partners supporting more than 20,000 end customers. Here is a proof point of how the real world of product development takes place; Freescale creates a flexible and powerful ARM-based product like the i.MX 6 series of applications processors, and then innovative companies put it on boards with software and support for hundreds of vertical applications. If you want to see the process in action then consider attending the annual Freescale Technology Forum where Freescale and their partner network collaborate on the next design cycle. According to Alex, a major reason why Freescale embraced the ARM architecture was the number of developers who are familiar with the software. Freescale has other processor architectures in their single board computer portfolio based on their storied history going back to the aforementioned 68000 and later the PowerPC (now OpenPower) architecture. Alex told me that the fastest growing markets for ARM-based products are industrial and healthcare and this may be due to the widespread adoption of open source software in these markets. Freescale has embraced the open source movement and offers Linux, Android and their homegrown but open MQX RTOS. Freescale has had great success over the last 2 years with the i.MX 6 series product line and that may be due in part to not just their own development tools (like CodeWarrior) but the number of third party tools and software available from Mentor, Green Hills Software, IAR and QNX for example. Freescale has also worked closely with ARM tools like DS-5, Keil and mbed. So let’s take a deeper look at the i.MX 6 series portfolio roadmap:
Newly announced (at Embedded World 2015) was the i.MX 6SoloX applications processor which paired an ARM® Cortex®-A9 core and a Cortex-M4 core which I believe is an important trend in processors that you should be aware of. The concept of asymmetric multi-processing (AMP) means that different cores can perform different functions in a system based on processing needs.
An SoC that contains cores with different capabilities is not unlike the ARM big.LITTLE concept which combines different cores for high performance and low power depending on the needs of the system. What’s interesting is how architectures like the i.MX 6SoloX will appear in so many different applications and systems that leverage the smaller core to save battery life, reduce board size, increase system security, and increase reliability. Here is a video from Embedded World on the i.MX 6SoloX. Freescale has a long history in the Embedded Computing Board (ECB) market and when you check out the Embedded Computing Board (ECB) Resource Guide you will see that Freescale is being utilized in over half of all the boards and they continue to innovate. Please check out other embedded board articles here: Exploring the world of ARM based Embedded Computing Boards (ECB)
Freescale just updated the i.MX 6 roadmap: