Published: 2 March, 2010
New device formats go through the usual cycle - real enthusiasts snap the gadgets up at premium prices, then the costs have to come down to address the mass market. Freescale claims to be accelerating this process for the increasingly crowded e-reader segment, with a new chipset dedicated to this market.
This could enable e-readers priced at under $150 by the end of this year, according to the company. It already supplies the applications processor for the bestselling e-reader, Amazon Kindle, which costs from $260, but the new i.MX508 processor is vendor's first system-on-chip specifically designed for these products.
The silicon is built on an ARM Cortex-A8 processor design. Its main contribution to a lower cost and power rating is the integration of a hardware-based display controller from E Ink, the leader in e-reader screen technology. This "reduces part counts and lowers costs associated with electronic paper display control functionality by as much as 50% compared to systems without an integrated controller", says Freescale.
The company statement added: "With the ARM core running at 800MHz, the i.MX508 provides twice the rendering performance of Freescale's previous e-reader processors, resulting in faster page turns and snappy responsiveness for consumers."
Freescale expects the i.MX508 processor to be priced at less than $10 in quantities greater than 250,000 units, and this could cut at least $30 off the bill of materials for an e-reader. The chip will sample around midyear. As well as targeting lower cost e-readers, Freescale believes the boost in processing power will help manufacturers develop the next generation of more advanced products, to see off the entry of more general purpose devices, like Apple iPad, which also carry publishing content and, in future, reading displays. Freescale expects vendors to add advanced touch, color and complex image manipulation in the near future.
The silicon supplier has also collaborated with E Ink to create a reference design based on the i.MX508, the latest in the Sabre (Smart Application Blueprint for Rapid Engineering) series of 'out of the box' gadget designs.