Home > FPGA, FPGAs, global semiconductor industry, microprocessors, Vincent Ratford, Xilinx > FPGA and MPU trends: Intelligent mixed-signal FPGA to be part of Xilinx’s TDP strategy

FPGA and MPU trends: Intelligent mixed-signal FPGA to be part of Xilinx’s TDP strategy

March 24, 2010

Friends, here is part two of my discussion with Vincent Ratford, senior vice president, worldwide marketing and business development, Xilinx. This post will discuss FPGAs and Xilinx’s estimate of the global FPGA industry, as well as its university development program.

Estimate of global FPGA industry
Ratford said that in 2010, Xilinx sees tremendous growth opportunities for programmable platforms in electronics infrastructure applications, such as wired communications, 3G and LTE wireless deployment — all of which will require high performance DSP processing in excess of 1000 Giga operations per second and packet processing at a rate of more than 100 Gbps.

He added: “Green IT will need power efficient, high performance, compute architectures that will exploit the high level of parallel computing. The smart grid will rely on programmable, flexible appliances and metering. And finally surveillance and security will require sophisticated image processing algorithms. These compute-intensive applications are ideally suited to the performance and flexibility of today’s leading edge FPGAs.

“This trend bodes well for the PLD industry to outperform the overall semiconductor industry over the long term, as the technology ‘most responsive to change’ displaces costly, high-risk application-specific solutions for all but a narrow set of high-volume commodity markets.

Is there still a debate regarding FPGAs vs. ASICs?

As per Ratford, there is no debate! “From our perspective the market has spoken. FPGA design starts are on the rise, as ASIC design starts continue their steep decline. Today, ASICs can only be justified for a short list of ultra-high volume commodity products, such as video games (Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox360), hard drives for PCs, mobile/smartphones, etc.”

The ability to quickly create differentiated products — and the freedom to innovate — is why more and more companies in India and all over the world are choosing FPGAs. Due to their inherent flexibility, Xilinx silicon, software, IP, evaluation kits and reference designs are used by more than 20,000 customers to:
i) get to the market in a matter of weeks;
ii) drastically reduce research and development costs; and
iii) change or upgrade end product features and functions “on the fly” to meet new market demands and adapt to changing industry standards.

On intelligent mixed-signal devices
Early this month, at the Embedded World conference, Actel Corp. had unveiled SmartFusion, the world’s first intelligent mixed signal FPGA. I was keen to find out whether Xilinx has plans for similar devices, or rather, when is its intelligent mixed-signal FPGA planned.

Ratford agreed that introducing analog/mixed signal capabilities in FPGAs is a good idea. “We are looking at ways to provide that in the future, but it needs to be as part of our TDP (Targeted Design Platform) strategy including IP, software, reference designs.”
On microprocessor trends
I was also keen to learn about any updates regarding the trends in microprocessors.

According to Ratford, ARM has announced the availability the new AMBA 4 specification that will provide increased functionality and efficiency for complex, media-rich on-chip communications for SoC implementations.

He said: “The AMBA specification is the de facto standard for system on-chip interconnects, and was introduced by ARM more than 15 years ago. Xilinx participated in the development of the AMBA 4 so that the specification would be optimized for FPGAs.

“FPGAs are increasingly being used alongside microprocessors, both discreetly and on single chip, to improve overall system performance. Standardizing on a common interconnect enables developers to combine the high-speed parallel processing performance possible in FPGAs with traditional processor based systems. We believe our work on the AMBA specification will accelerate this trend.”

On Xilinx’s university development program
Finally, on to Dave Tokic, senior director, partner ecosystems and alliances, worldwide marketing, Xilinx, to get an update on the company’s university development program in India.

Tokic said: “India has a good pool of talent for high-tech companies to tap into. Through the Xilinx University Program, we have ongoing initiatives at several IITs, IISc, Bangalore and several other leading engineering institutions of the country to provide access to Xilinx’s full suite of FPGA design tools and necessary hardware development boards both for teaching and research.

“A couple years ago we set up a team in CoreEL, who is our university representative for India, to engage into the next tier of engineering institutes in India. We have now reached more than 500 engineering institutes in India who have access to Xilinx tools, development boards, course material, etc. We conduct about 12-14 professor workshops in a year around the country to enable them to be able to both teach and have research projects using our technology. Our employees in Hyderabad also helped develop curriculum for an entire semester focussed on FPGAs, and they volunteer to teach this course at a reputed local engineering institute.

“We also have an ongoing exchange of best practices between Indian academia and universities around the world for example we facilitated:
* WARP wireless platform workshop from Rice University at IIT Madras – Chennai.
* NetFPGA workshop from Stanford University at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

To be concluded, and thanks Neeraj!

  1. Arindam Chatterjee
    April 23, 2010 at 5:44 am

    Some questions:

    a) I wonder how powerful the analog components in the mixed signal library will be. For example will I be able to build frequency multipliers (via Analog PLL), Sample-Hold circuits, Analog multiplexing etc. Or I have to resort to using the digital components.

    b) I am mostly stuck with ASIC design flow (even below that : IC based bread board design) to verify my design prototypes in an academic environment. How far that is going to get replaced by FPGA honestly? I have seen some of my classmates migrating to FPGA, but I am a bit sceptical about the support that we can get from these cutting edge tool developers. BTW, does Xilinx (or any other FPGA vendors like Altera) have presence in institutes in Kolkata (like JU, CU etc.)?

    c) How many of these FPGAs will include PC interface modules built-in (like PCI, USB and so on) also at what price differential?

    Arindam Chatterjee.

  2. Neeraj Varma
    April 26, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    a. We do not have any of these parts currently so cannot comment.

    b) There are several Universities in India who are successfully using FPGAs. Xilinx has put together a specific team at CoreEl for support of Universities across the length and breadth of the country, so yes we can provide support in Kolkata too. Please contact upt@coreel.com and our team will be happy to help.

    c) All latest Spartan-6 LXT FPGAs have PCI Express hard IP built inside the FPGA. Since they are part of the device itself, there is no premium you pay. Other interfaces like PCI, USB are built using soft IP.

    Neeraj Varma/Xilinx India

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