Over the past couple decades, technology has been advancing at a rapid pace. When we wanted to speed up transportation we invented cars, to solve complex problems we created computers, to increase communication with each other we invented the phone. We have been developing products that make life easier for our society. So what is our society lacking now?
For many applications, embedded processing was divided into two main categories, MCUs and applications processors. Designs needing affordable and flexible usage turn to MCUs while designs that need more performance and features than what a MCU could offer uses application processors. This is where NXP Semiconductors stepped in and created the new i.MX RT series. The market was lacking a design that could be considered an in-between device of the two fields and the i.MT RT series fits that role perfectly. The last remaining tradition MCU customers that were holding out on making the crossover due to package requirements, will be happy to hear that the i.MX RT series now offers LQFP packaging with its brand new i.MX RT1020. Check out the latest device here - i.MX RT1020.
NXP Semiconductors recent release of its new application processors are thought to be the first of its kind. The I.MX RT series is considered to be a "crossover" processor that acts like a high-end MCU/low-end applications processor that excels in its high-performance, power efficiency, low latency, and low cost. The i.MX RT series uses the Arm Cortex-M7 processor with processing speeds that can reach up to 600MHz to help solve heavy calculations. With no on-chip flash memory, the i.MX RT series runs fast like many applications processors with still having the advantage of being at the lower cost of a MCU.
Another benefit of eliminating on-chip flash is the low bill of materials (BOM) cost. But isn't that more expense now that companies have to buy the MCU and an external flash device? It turns out that the fab process of putting flash on the MCU is expensive while flash chips are cheap and abundant. NXP killed two birds with one stone by lowering the cost and increasing the performance by having no on-chip flash.
Since the i.MX RT uses a MCU core with real-time operating systems, interrupt response time is of the highest priority to ensure fast reactions to internal/external input. These crossover processors can have interrupt latency as low as 10-20ns which is favorable to the long, one microsecond latency that is seen in normal application processors.
As if that is not enough, this crossover processor is more power efficient by integrating a DC-DC converter which eliminates the need for an external power supply. It is possible to run power as low as 100uA/MHz which is a great deal lower than current MCUs which can be 3x more inefficient than the i.MX RT.
This new class of low cost and high-performance MCUs could be the perfect device to fill the gap in the embedded processing industry and the answer to the market's needs. Thei.MX RT is being designed into applications such as audio subsystems, general embedded designs, human machine interfaces, motor control/power conversion and much more.
What is the next device we create to make our lives easier? For more on this subject check out NXP's fact sheet - i.MX RT Series of Crossover Processor and the white paper - Crossover Embedded Processor - Bridging the gap between performance and usability.