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Low-cost FPGAs: A prospect for Chinese OEMs

Posted: 03 Dec 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:low-cost fpga? cyclone device? spartan? consumer oem in china?

For Asian OEMs who want to use FPGAs but are wary of the cost, Altera Corp. has launched the Cyclone device family, which they say is priced as low as $1.50 per 1,000 logic elements. Meanwhile Xilinx Inc., the other programmable logic bellwether, is honing its Spartan Series to reach even higher densities at significantly lower price points.

Paul Chan, Altera's senior marketing manager for Asia-Pacific, is particularly optimistic about mainland China, where electronics manufacturers specifically ask for low-cost FPGAs so they can compete with the market leaders worldwide. This time, however, it is not only China's communications vendors Altera is aiming for; the Cyclone family seems more targeted at digital consumer applications such as DVDs and STBs.

Xilinx, on its part, is refining its Spartan Series, which presently represents over 13 percent of the company revenue. Since the inception of Spartan Series in 1998, Xilinx has released four generations of devices: Spartan, Spartan-XL, Spartan-II, and Spartan-IIE. Danny Mok, regional product marketing manager at Xilinx Asia-Pacific, said that Xilinx is on track to deliver a fifth generation of the Spartan Series.

Low-cost devices such as Cyclone could also be an inducement for more Chinese designers to get involved with programmable logic as a potential design solution. According to Richard Wawrzyniak, senior analyst at Semico Research Corp., "designers now have a new option that brings a programmable logic solution further within their cost and performance targets for cost-sensitive designs."

"It seems to me what prevents (Chinese designers) from programmable logic products is the realization that even though the designer may master the technology, he cannot use it in the production version of the system because it is too expensive," said Wawrzyniak. "Now he has access to a much lower cost alternative that facilitates a quick design cycle and quick ramp to production."

Go back to school

Both Altera and Xilinx are sponsoring several events and seminars in mainland China and have programs at the university level to introduce new engineers to programmable logic.

Chan said that Altera has been trying to build a strong design community, especially in the communications market, through support for Chinese universities and by conducting various training programs for beginners (VHDL or Verilog primer) and advanced designers (optimization techniques).

He added that Altera will expand the technical resources by providing experts to help customers with system-architect definition, system-level implementation and assist with value-added functions. "Altera plans to work closely with design houses in mainland China and across Asia to develop market-focused reference designs."

Xilinx has also been active in organizing road shows, solution seminars, on-site product and technology trainings and other joint events with its strategic partners. The firm held the Programmable World Asia Pacific 2002 from 4 June to 12 July this year at six Asia-Pacific locations. The event, held in collaboration with Cadence, Celoxica, IBM, Wind River Systems, and other industry leaders, came to Shenzhen and Shanghai on 12 June and 14 June respectively.

As the FPGA vendors seek to continue their growth rates, they will naturally try to expand into new markets, which will require new approaches to product definition and new architectures to meet such requirements. "One direction is taking the industry toward lower-cost parts with a relatively high functionality," said Wawrzyniak. It would seem the Cyclone family is the first in a series of products from many vendors with this thought in mind, he added.

- Majeed Ahmad

EE Times Asia

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