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NXP’s i.MX Apps Processors Bring Security and Scalability to the IoT Edge

March 2, 2021
On-die security subsystems, tailored power-performance profiles, and highly scalable processors address the needs of the edge-computing sphere.

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Edge computing is a continually evolving subspecies of processors. It’s driven by distributed intelligence across enormous numbers of devices, which in turn drives greater needs in processing, energy efficiency, and cloud-to-edge security. To aid in that effort, NXP Semiconductors has expanded its EdgeVerse portfolio with its crossover applications processors, including the i.MX 8ULP and i.MX 8ULP-CS (cloud secured) Microsoft Azure Sphere-certified families, as well as the next-generation i.MX 9 series of high-performance intelligent applications processors. The expansion includes new innovations with EdgeLock secure enclave to enhance edge security and Energy Flex architecture to maximize energy efficiency. 

On the on-die security subsystem front, NXP is launching its EdgeLock secure enclave, a pre-configured security subsystem that simplifies implementation of complex security technologies and helps designers avoid costly errors. It enhances protection to the edge device through autonomous management of critical security functions, such as root of trust, run-time attestation, trust provisioning, secure boot, key management, and cryptographic services, while also simplifying the path to industry-standard security certifications. The EdgeLock secure enclave intelligently tracks power transitions when end-user applications are running to help prevent new attack surfaces from emerging.

The secure enclave will be a standard integrated feature across the i.MX 8ULP, i.MX 8ULP-CS with Azure Sphere, and i.MX 9 applications processors, providing developers with a wide range of compute scalability options to easily deploy security on thousands of edge applications.

Addressing Security Concerns

Keeping an edge device secure long after initial deployment is a challenge that requires nonstop trusted management services. NXP partnered with Microsoft to incorporate Azure Sphere chip-to-cloud security in the i.MX 8ULP-CS (cloud-secured) applications processor family. The i.MX 8ULP-CS with Azure Sphere incorporates Microsoft Pluton enabled on EdgeLock secure enclave as the secured root of trust built into the silicon itself, and as a key step toward enabling highly secured devices for a vast range of IoT and industrial applications. In addition to the secured hardware, Azure Sphere includes the secured Azure Sphere OS, the cloud-based Azure Sphere Security Service, and ongoing OS updates and security improvements for over ten years. Azure Sphere chip-to-cloud security will be enabled on specific products within the i.MX 9 series, giving developers an even broader set of processor options to implement managed device security across more of their products.

Tailored Power-Performance Profiles

Optimizing energy use at the chip level is becoming an increasingly crucial part of designing energy-efficient edge systems. NXP’s implementation of its innovative Energy Flex architecture is designed to extend battery life and reduce energy waste in portable or plugged-in devices.

In the i.MX 8ULP and i.MX 8ULP-CS families, the Energy Flex architecture delivers as much as 75% improved energy efficiency over its predecessor by uniquely combining heterogeneous domain processing, design techniques, and 28-nm FD-SOI process technology. Embedded in these processors is a programmable power-management subsystem that can govern more than 20 different power mode configurations to deliver exceptional energy efficiency—from full power to as low as 30 mW. Using this range of flexible configurations, OEMs and developers can customize application-specific power profiles to maximize energy efficiency.

Intelligent applications processors

Building on the earlier i.MX 6 and i.MX 8 series of applications processors, the i.MX 9 series debuts a new generation of scalable, high-performance processors. Scalable i.MX 9 families bring together higher performance applications cores; an independent, MCU-like real-time domain; Energy Flex architecture; state-of-the art security with EdgeLock secure enclave; and dedicated multi-sensory data processing engines (graphics, image, display, audio, and voice). The i.MX 9 series integrates hardware neural-processing units across the entire series for acceleration of machine learning applications. It also marks NXP’s first implementation of the Arm Ethos U-65 microNPU, which makes possible building low-cost, energy-efficient edge machine learning (ML). The first families in this series will be built in 16/12-nm FinFET class of process technology with specific low-power optimization.  

About the Author

David Maliniak | Executive Editor, Microwaves & RF

I am Executive Editor of Microwaves & RF, an all-digital publication that broadly covers all aspects of wireless communications. More particularly, we're keeping a close eye on technologies in the consumer-oriented 5G, 6G, IoT, M2M, and V2X markets, in which much of the wireless market's growth will occur in this decade and beyond. I work with a great team of editors to provide engineers, developers, and technical managers with interesting and useful articles and videos on a regular basis. Check out our free newsletters to see the latest content.

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About me:

In his long career in the B2B electronics-industry media, David Maliniak has held editorial roles as both generalist and specialist. As Components Editor and, later, as Editor in Chief of EE Product News, David gained breadth of experience in covering the industry at large. In serving as EDA/Test and Measurement Technology Editor at Electronic Design, he developed deep insight into those complex areas of technology. Most recently, David worked in technical marketing communications at Teledyne LeCroy, leaving to rejoin the EOEM B2B publishing world in January 2020. David earned a B.A. in journalism at New York University.

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