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Date: 22-07-09

Q&A: The increasing role of FPGA in embedded systems and latest trends

The role of FPGA in Embedded Systems is gaining importance due to its increasing capabilities and availability of powerful FPGA design software tools. The digital video applications are driving FPGA market and enabling use of FPGA for broad range of applications. Here is a Q&A with Brent Przybus, Director of Product Marketing, Xilinx on latest trends of this key semiconductor component.

1. Can you provide brief performance comparative-view of latest FPGA device and a high-end multi-core      32 bit DSP/processors available in the market?

FPGAs enable an optimal balancing of computational resources versus DSP/processors which attempt to provide one solution for all. FPGA flexibility enables the parallelization of DSP processing resources to meet a targeted performance level. For instance, customers can achieve over 1200GMACs (1200 billion multiply-accumulate operation per second) using Virtex-6 SX475T. This is 40-50x higher performance than typical multi-core 32 bit DSP/processors available in terms of pure GMACs performance.

2. What are the new applications emerging for FPGA devices in the current market scenario?

Examples of new applications in different markets are:

Automotive Infotainment - merging in-car access to rich media content typically found in the home with real-time access to road, traffic, and GPS information. FPGAs provide a scalable solution that can be deployed quickly, adapt to emerging standards, are cost efficient, and can meet power requirements.
Automotive driver assistance - new applications are being developed using FPGA technology designed to assist and augment the driver to improve safety and efficiency. Lane departure warning systems, driver fatigue, and other applications are examples.
Video surveillance and integrated analytics are some additional examples of new applications that are using FPGAs.
Wired and Wireless communications, defense, medical and test and measurement all use FPGAs to address emerging and changing standards. FPGA power, performance and feature sets address these requirements in ways only ASICs did in the past.

3. Most of the embedded system designers are less exposed to VHDL, how important is the     knowledge of VHDL in designing embedded systems based on FPGA? Can your kits help to kickstart     FPGA based design for an ARM/PIC/8051 or such popular MCU architecture trained embedded     designer without any training in FPGA?

It is no longer mandatory that embedded system designers be adept at HDL to design and implement embedded systems in an FPGA. Our embedded Targeted Design Platforms will provide customers with a complete embedded reference design including common peripherals, bus structures that interface to acceleration blocks that exist in the FPGA logic. This embedded reference design provides the framework that can be modified or extended by embedded system designers using our graphic design environment to meet the customer's need without having to create HDL code directly. Furthermore we provide a complete software development environment for application development that enables software designers to write code that will run directly on the embedded system implemented in the FPGA without having to touch the FPGA code itself.

4. There is a trend of semiconductor companies collaborating with engineering colleges by      establishing labs for students and faculty? Any progress made by Xilinx in this direction?

We have an active University program that equips college labs with hardware, software, and course work on FPGAs throughout the world. We collaborate closely with many schools and are actively extending these collaborations daily both directly and through our partners.

5. Let me ask you few question on market, what is your opinion on present semiconductor market     downturn? FPGA is less hit by this recession; share your thoughts on this.

The economic, financial and competitive conditions have forced ASIC and ASSP vendors to refocus their efforts on higher volume markets and applications. This has created a gap in the available technical solutions available to these effected markets. FPGAs are uniquely suited to address this gap and the needs of these markets by providing a common reprogrammable solution that can be used by many markets for different purposes. Because the cost of the FPGA is amortized over multiple customers, FPGAs can cost effectively address what alternative technologies cannot. At the same time the increase in performance, reduction in power consumption and the focus on ease-of-use allow FPGAs to address customer technical requirements.

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