Freescale Semiconductor Aims Netbook Market with ARM Processors

ARM, Freescale, Pegatron to Enable “Gigahertz Performance” Netbooks for $200

by Anton Shilov
01/05/2009 | 05:22 AM

A new central processing unit built by Freescale and based on micro-architecture developed by ARM Technology is expected to power netbooks that will cost less than $200. Reference design for such machines has been developed by Pegatron Technology, a contract manufacturer owned by Asustek Computer.

Freescale Sees Huge Opportunities in Netbook Market


Freescale Semiconductor, a maker of various chips, has announced that it would provide a set of chips that will enable cost-effective yet high-performance netbooks. The new processors from Freescale use ARM Cortex-A8 micro-architecture and are projected to be joined by other chips based on the same architecture later this year. With the formal announcement of Freescale i.MX515 chip, ARM’s expansion on the market of netbooks officially begins.

According to Freescale, the iMX515 central processing unit (CPU) will enable netbooks with up to 8 hours of battery life and 8.9” screen at just $199 price-point.

A comprehensive netbook reference design based on the i.MX515 processor is available now. Created in concert with Pegatron, the reference design features the i.MX515 processor, Canonical’s Ubuntu operating system, MC13982 power management IC from Freescale, the SGTL5000 ultra low-power audio codec and Adobe Flash Lite software, Adobe’s Flash Player for mobile phones and devices.

“We see a huge opportunity in the netbook market as consumers demand more cost-effective and higher performing solutions. Our solution for netbooks will enable OEMs to develop compelling products that feature cell phone-like battery life at extremely aggressive price points. We believe the combination of the i.MX515 processor and related enablement solutions will dramatically accelerate the evolution of this exciting new space,” said Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of Freescale’s networking and multimedia group.

Freescale i.MX515 Processor – ARM’s First Step on Netbook Ground

Freescale’s new i.MX515 based on ARM Cortex-A8 micro-architecture provides up to 2100 Dhrystone MIPS and can scale in performance from 600MHz to 1GHz. Actual performance of the CPU is not known and it is unclear whether netbooks powered by the i.MX515 will be faster compared to those powered by Intel Atom processor.

The processor sports integrated memory controller that supports both DDR2 as well as mobile DDR memory. Although the i.MX515 offers support for both memory types, many competing Cortex-A8 platform options available today only offer mobile DDR1, limiting designers’ options to maximize cost savings, according to Freescale.

The i.MX515 also offers both OpenVG and OpenGL graphics cores, thereby enabling 2D and 3D graphics as well as Flash and SVG for enhanced user experiences. Video created for the Adobe Player is one of the leading video formats on the Internet today. Working with Adobe, Freescale plans to enable the Adobe software to run on the processor’s dedicated OpenVG graphics block, thereby extending battery life and enabling netbook web browsing experiences as rich and responsive as those on traditional PCs. Besides, the i.MX515 sports hardware acceleration of 720p high-definition video playback.

The new chip is made using 65nm process technology

A key component of Freescale’s netbook solution is the new MC13982 power management IC. Integrating a variety of discrete functions into a single device, the MC13982 contributes to reduced size and weight of end products while extending their battery life through innovative power management and control features. The device incorporates a battery charging system, four adjustable buck converters for powering the processor core and memory, two boost converters for LCD backlighting, and RGB LED displays along with serial backlighting drivers for display and keypad.

The company is currently sampling the i.MX515 processor and MC13982 power management device to tier one netbook customers. Volume production for the i.MX515 device is planned for Q2 2009 to power netbooks designed for the 2009 holiday shopping season.