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Xilinx mixes low price, high programmability

Posted: 17 Mar 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:xilinx spartan-3e? spartan-3e fpga? Xilinx Richard Terrill?

In the perfect world of a design engineer, price is of no consideration. As long as the part is the fastest, consumes the lowest possible power and is the most flexible, price means nothing. But in the "real" design world, if the product is not within the design team's budget, then its not even worth considering.

Richard Terrill, senior manager for Xilinx Inc.'s high volume products marketing, agrees. "If designers where to choose between price and programmability, price will win because at the end of the day, designers have a cost budget they have to meet," he said.

And this is what Xilinx is addressing with the release of its Spartan-3E FPGA family. Ranging from 100,000 to 1.6M system gates, this new product family touts to deliver the lowest cost per logic cell in the FPGA industry. "Cost will always dictate; but the one who offers more features as well as more personalization at the common cost, will win every time," Terrill added.

What can you get for $2?
The fourth family to utilize 90nm process technology, Spartan-3E is the first to break the $2/unit cost barrier for 100,000 system gates and the $10/unit cost barrier for devices over 1M system gates. "So what can you get for $2?" the company asked. "An awful lot is the correct answer," Terrill said as members of the Spartan-3E family offer 100,000 system gates, almost 90Kb of embedded memories, four high performance multipliers, embedded controllers and embedded DSP.

Targeted at digital consumer applications, this new FPGA family promises to reduce unit and overall system costs by offering a wide range of platform features at low price points. Xilinx gave an example: the Spartan-3E family implements microprocessor, microcontroller and digital signal processing functions at standard product pricing, including the 32bit MicroBlaze embedded processor for 48 cents, the 8bit PicoBlaze embedded processor for less than 10 cents and a DSP cost/performance ratio of less than $1/GMAC/s.

The Spartan-3E devices also include a host of features, including support for 18 common I/O standards, and interfaces to commodity priced DDR memories. The company said these platform features reduce the need for other discrete devices, lowering overall system costs and simplifying design. "The key to cost reduction is integration," stressed Terrill.

Digital consumer market
According to Gartner Dataquest, the consumer electronics market for FPGAs is expected to reach $1.16 billion by 2008, with a CAGR of 31.9 percent. "We are really going after the digital consumer market," shared Terrill. "We are addressing our costumers' requirements and requests for programmability, very fast cycle time and extremely low cost."

Terrill added that the Spartan-3E was built for customers who liked the cost, product capabilities and platform features but did not need all the I/Os included. The Spartan-3E family was designed "to balance very low cost with maximum flexibility."

Danny Mok, Product Marketing Manager for High Volume Products at Xilinx, commented, "Spartan-3E is a very strong push for us across the whole region. We are looking forward to target more consumer electronics applications and meeting the needs of our customers."

ISE 7.1i design tools
Software support for the Spartan-3E family is available with the ISE (Integrated Software Environment) 7.1i tools. This tool integrates new power analysis, hierarchical design, simulation and debug features, and supports 64bit Linux. Aside from the new Spartan-3E family, the ISE 7.1i also supports Virtex-4 FPGAs, Spartan-3 Generation FPGAs and CoolRunner-II CPLDs.

The first family member to be made available is the Spartan XC3S100E device with 100,000 system gates. Other family members will begin shipping in Q2 2005, with all five Spartan-3E devices scheduled for volume production in the second half of 2005.

- Margarette Teodosio
Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

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