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Actel plans low-cost line of flash FPGAs

Posted: 01 Mar 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:programmable-logic chip? actel? fpga? proasic3?

In a move that could intensify the battle over low-cost programmable-logic chips, Actel Corp. has disclosed plans to offer a line of low-end FPGAs priced below $10 by year's end.

At that price, Actel expects to claim bragging rights to the lowest-cost FPGAs sold in high volumes when it ramps up production in the fourth quarter. The company expects seven ProASIC3 devices to sell below $10, including a 30,000-system-gate FPGA priced at $1.50. Some samples are available now for early-access customers.

The low prices will be largely due to a shift to a 0.13-micron flash memory process that was co-developed with Infineon Technologies and offered through United Microelectronics Corp. Unlike SRAM-based FPGAs, with six transistors per cell, the flash-based parts use only one transistor per cell. That translates into a big die area savings and higher production yields, said Dennis Kish, vice president of marketing for Actel.

Moreover, the flash-based parts are live at power-up, so they don't need external boot memory or power and clock management chips, which can tack on another $4, Kish said.

The flash memory process technology has some disadvantages, however. It's usually at least one process node generation behind because it uses a thicker gate oxide to isolate its characteristic floating gate and allow high-voltage programming. Performance can take a hit as a result.

The ProASIC3 parts, Actel's third generation of flash-based FPGAs, include a number of enhancements to compensate for those deficiencies. Besides choosing the 0.13?m process rather than 0.22?m, Actel added routing resources and improved packing density for the three-input lookup table logic elements. The devices can operate as high as 350 MHz, including embedded SRAM blocks and PLLs.

Actel compared its devices with the Spartan 3, from industry leader Xilinx, on 22 benchmarks and came out ahead on 18 of them, Kish said.

Actel expects its flash-based devices to grow faster than any other products going forward. Kish said the low-cost FPGA segment, which should reach $1.5 billion by 2008, will contribute to much of that growth.

- Anthony Cataldo

EE Times

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