Today SolidRun announced their latest embedded System on Module (SoM) board which aims to "dethrone" the Raspberry Pi as the go-to hardware solution for development and prototyping. With a design similar to the recent Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 the i.MX8M Plus comes in a dual or quad core configuration and with compatibility for existing models and software resources. The big selling point of this board is an onboard Neural Processor which will provide much more computational power when used in TensorFlow machine learning projects. The Raspberry Pi 4 can do at best 9 FPS in a TensorFlow Lite unless used with a Tensor Processing Unit such as those from Google's Coral project.
Both the i.MX8M Plus dual core and quad core models share the same Arm Cortex A53 running at up to 1.8 GHz for commercial applications, with industrial variants clocking in at 1.6 GHz. Both versions have a Neural Processor (NPU) which provides extra power for machine learning and AI intensive tasks such as TensorFlow. Up to 8GB of LPDDR4 RAM is supported and storage is provided via an internal eMMC or via external micro SD or PCIe SSD using a carrier board. Wireless connectivity is provided directly on the SoM, with 802.11 ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0.
The onboard Vivante GC7000UL GPU provides support for OpenGL ES 3.1/3.0 and Vulkan as well as hardware video decoding and encoding. HDMI 2.0, MIPI-DSI and LVDS are supported for two displays with a limit 1080P @ 60Hz per display. Camera support is provided via a MIPI-CSI port.
The i.MX8M requires carrier boards with which some of their onboard functionality is broken out for easy development. The three new carrier boards the HummingBoard-M Pulse, Ripple and Mate provide dual Gigabit Ethernet (Mate and Pulse) as well as an additional MIPI-CSI camera connector for stereo vision projects. Carrier boards are necessary for breaking out and developing projects based on the i.MX8M Plus CoM. Once we learn how they work we are free to develop our own carrier boards to break out the functionality that we require.
With prices starting from $75 for a quad core model with 1GB of RAM and 8GB eMMC but no wireless connectivity or carrier board we must look to the $150 model with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well as a carrier board.
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Les Pounder is an associate editor at Tom's Hardware. He is a creative technologist and for seven years has created projects to educate and inspire minds both young and old. He has worked with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to write and deliver their teacher training program "Picademy".