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Altium seeks to move designers from PCBs to FPGAs

Posted: 30 Apr 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:altium? fpga? pcb?

PCB and embedded software company Altium Ltd wants to turn PCB designers into FPGA designers.

On Xilinx's Programmable World Exposition 2003 symposium, the company will demonstrate its Board on Chip (BoC) technology that will allow PCB designers with no HDL knowledge to implement their designs - hardware and embedded software - on FPGAs.

Bruce Edwards, executive director of Altium, said the FPGA industry has advanced to the point where designers can buy affordably-priced FPGAs with gate counts large enough to accommodate functions found on many PCBs.

But Edwards said many PCB designers are not familiar with HDLs and therefore have not yet considered moving those functions in PCB designs into an FPGA. Among other advantages, this would reduce the overall size these functions take up on a system.

"We are demonstrating technology with all the bits and pieces that will allow PCB designers to move to the programmable device world," said Edwards. "BoC has the potential to lower development costs, cut time to market and offer much greater design flexibility."

Altium's yet unnamed technology, which has roots in tools the company gained in its acquisition of Accel Technologies, could allow designers to implement boards on FPGAs.

Robert Irwin, manager of brand strategy for Altium, said the new technology would have the look and feel of the company's nVisage PCB schematic capture and its TASKING embedded software technologies, including Viper compiler and debugger technologies. FPGAs will be the targeted platform.

Irwin said the key to the new technology is an IP library Altium has been quietly building over the last couple of years. Irwin said Altium has pre-synthesized unspecified number of functions. In the environment, customers will use Altium's schematic capture tool and place IP blocks for FPGA designs in the same way they currently place PCB blocks on their FPGAs.

The technology has a built-in automated synthesis tool that generates the glue logic to connect those blocks. Routing is handled by the targeted FPGA vendor's place and route software. Altium also provides the embedded software and a prototyping board to hold an FPGA, for in-socket testing of designs.

Edwards said Altium has acquired a number of IP blocks and generated some itself. It remains to be seen whether Altium will be able to build an extensive library or gain enough third-party IP support so users won't have to try HDLs and generate functions that are missing from the IP library. The technology does come with VHDL support.

Daya Nadamuni, analyst at research firm Gartner Dataquest, said the technology will appeal to one- or two-man design shops that don't have or can't afford a chip designer but want to expand. The technology will also appeal to design groups that need to produce chips for low- and medium-volume applications, where ASIC implementations may not be cost effective.

"The technology is promising but the IP question still remains," said Nadamuni.

Edwards said the technology will not be offered commercially until the end of this year (the earliest possible). The technology will be on display at the Xilinx event.

- Michael Santarini

EE Times

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