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NXP’s i.MX RT600 Listens for Less

November 27, 2018

Author: Bob Wheeler

NXP is cutting the cost of the consumer and IoT devices that include a voice-based user interface. Its new i.MX RT600 adds a DSP core to process audio as well as accelerate deep learning. The RT600 joins the company’s other i.MX RT “crossover” products, which have many MCU features but deliver performance closer to that of application processors. They break the MCU mold by omitting embedded flash memory, thereby enabling the use of more-advanced process technologies that offer higher performance as well as lower power. The RT600 is the company’s first crossover chip built in a 28nm FD-SOI process.

Whereas the i.MX RT10xx family uses a single Arm Cortex-M7 CPU for all processing, the new RT600 integrates a newer Cortex-M33 CPU and a Cadence HiFi 4 DSP operating at up to 300MHz and 600MHz, respectively. Another standout feature is 4.5MB of integrated SRAM, which both the CPU and DSP can access. The chip’s security features include Arm TrustZone-M, secure boot, a physically unclonable function (PUF), and crypto engines. It has numerous serial interfaces plus a 12-bit A/D converter. The RT600 comes in a 9mm VFBGA-176 that’s only 1.0mm high. It’s currently sampling, with production expected in 2Q19; NXP didn’t announce pricing.

For voice-based applications, the RT600 is powerful enough to perform keyword detection and other deep-learning tasks, yet it’s efficient enough to serve in battery-powered devices. It competes primarily with MCUs based on Cortex-M7, such as STMicroelectronics’ STM32H7-series; these alternatives are less power efficient for DSP tasks. The RT600’s downsides are a more complicated programming model compared with a CPU-only design and a lack of deep-learning software. As a result, we expect mainly designers of battery-powered devices will adopt NXP’s new chip.

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