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Date: 20-03-13

FPGA fabric and ASIC core twined in a chip/module, a recipe for smart systems

When an engineer designs a system in today's world of changing specifications, changing standards and changing interfaces, the design can only be made last longer by keeping as much flexibility as possible. And in a design everything not going to change. So there is something designer can do manage with ASIC/ASSP and for some, FPGA is necessary. All these years engineers have used to the combination of ASIC and ASSP along with FPGA. The change now engineers are really liking is FPGA vendors are offering both FPGA fabric and ASIC like hardwired logic in single IC (ARM Cortex based hard processors), which is called as Programmable SoC. Krishna Rangasayee, senior vice president and general manager of the Xilinx Communication Business Unit says ASICs and ASSPs in applications like OTN have been disappearing at a surprisingly rapid pace due to the escalating cost of design, wide variance in device requirements, and the need for much greater levels of intelligence and adaptability.

This is big design trend where engineers are adopting to improve their design efficiency. Their complete and complex logic design is more inside the programmable SoC and less on the printed circuit board. With 3D stacking of pure-FPGAs with programmable SoCs, there is hardly anything digital outside the chip. The PC board design is going to be more of wiring analog/ mixed signal, power supply ICs, sensor and RF circuitry and any other non-silicon devices on the board.

This shift is positive for system designers but not so good for semiconductor companies who make ASICs and ASSPs. However FPGA semiconductor companies are enjoying double digit growth from their programmable SoC products. The double digit growth in their latest 28nm product is also eating up the revenue they (FPGA vendors) earn from the older FPGA products. For a design engineer, this trend is feel-nice factor. But for sales professionals in semiconductor domain its confusing. So over all, FPGA's growing popularity in 28nm and lesser nodes is causing some paradigm shift in both market and design.

Intel has noticed this trend of growing power of programmable SoC and is offering its fab to Achronix, Altera, and Tabula. Xilinx, the number one FPGA vendor has already speeding up its 20nm FPGA designs fabricated by TSMC and is not in hurry to jump to 14nm before reaping the revenue growth from 20nm.

To update you on latest news by FPGA vendors this week and last week here below the brief coverage of important announcements:

Xilinx, has added Zynq-7100 All Programmable SoCs, the latest addition to its Zynq-7000 family. 7100 packs powerful digital signal processing (DSP) supporting applications such as wireless, broadcast, medical and military applications. Its predecessor Zynq7000 is in full volume production now. Xilinx said demand for Zynq-7000 All Programmable SoCs is strong and growing with over 350 unique customers and more than 20,000 devices and 4,000 development boards from Xilinx and Avnet shipped since December 2011. This shows how hot is Programmable SoC.

Xilinx has announced its SmartCORE IP used in conjunction with Zynq-7000 All Programmable SoCs for designing solutions such as "customizable DPD & CFR for Class 1 MC-GSM Power Amplifier Linearization with 60 MHz transmission bandwidth including integrated ARM processor-based control for LTE and LTE Advanced wireless radios."

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