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i.MX RT1170: Fastest Flashless MCU

October 22, 2019

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

NXP’s new i.MX RT1170 is flashless, but it runs like the Flash. Thanks to an Arm Cortex-M7 operating at up to 1.0GHz and a 400MHz Cortex-M4 coprocessor, it will likely surpass 6,400 on the CPU-intensive EEMBC CoreMark test, which would set a record. Although the chip lacks flash memory, its 2MB of SRAM enables most software to run internally after startup. In addition to the mixed-signal peripherals and I/O interfaces expected of a 32-bit MCU, it has three Ethernet ports—including two with Audio Video Bridging (AVB) and one with Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN).

To present attractive user interfaces, the RT1170 has a 2D GPU, graphics acceleration, LCD outputs, and interfaces for cameras, keypads, microphones, and audio. The speedy CPU can simultaneously perform voice and object recognition, and the coprocessor can act as a real-time controller or listen for wake words while the main CPU sleeps. In-line encryption protects sensitive code and data in external memory. The RT1170 accelerates popular crypto algorithms, and it can detect and respond to physical tampering.

NXP calls these chips “crossover MCUs.” We prefer “flashless MCUs,” but in any case, they outperform conventional microcontrollers, which must employ 40nm or larger CMOS technology to embed flash memory. To push the Cortex-M7 to 1.0GHz at only 100mA, NXP employs low-leakage 28nm FD-SOI technology.

Although other products in the i.MX RT-series are better suited to small battery-powered systems, the RT1170 is ideal for factory machines, medical monitors, smart appliances, professional audio equipment, and vehicle instrument clusters. NXP plans to begin general sampling in 1Q20 and volume production in 2H20. We estimate the chips will cost about $6.50 in volume. Stripped-down single-core models will start at about $4.50.

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