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Spartan growing stronger in digital consumer

Posted: 16 Jun 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:makimoto wave? fpga? digital consumer electronics? xilinx? spartan?

People familiar with the "Makimoto Wave" might agree on the potential of FPGAs in digital consumer electronics. Xilinx Inc., a market leader, is actively pursuing the consumer space with its Spartan FPGAs.

In 1987, Tsugio Makimoto, sony Corp. corporate advisor, said that the semiconductor market swings between standardization- and customization-oriented periods every decade. He predicted that, as the rapid shift from analog to digital continues, FPGAs would be the key device in the current standardization period, which he said extends through 2007.

Being a strong believer in the Makimoto Wave and seeing market trends for himself, Sandeep Vij, VP of worldwide marketing at Xilinx, agrees that today is the "generation of programmable logic in digital consumer electronics." Programmable logic addresses the consumer segment's short product life cycles, changing standards and rapidly evolving feature sets, he added.

Vij noted that differentiation in consumer gadgets and faster time-to-market are making consumer companies hesitant to use traditional ASICs in their products. "They have to hit market windows very quickly and ASIC solutions are risky for them because if they miss their market windows, they're essentially gone," Vij said.

Programmable logic is good because it has the flexibility to make last-minute changes to the design, he added.

Birth of Spartan

In 1997, Xilinx came up with the first Spartan product family to address the needs of consumer companies for improved time-to-market and new levels of product quality and functionality. Now, the company has seven Spartan families that altogether have shipped about a hundred million units in the past eight years.

In Q1 this year, the company launched its Spartan-3e series that is aimed at gate-centric designs. The product was an improvement of the Spartan-3 release of 2003.

The seven Spartan families mirror Xilinx's commitment to the consumer market space, Vij said, noting that this same commitment has led them to recognize the fact that designs can be categorized into I/O-centric and gate-centric devices. I/O-centric designs require more I/O, but less logic. Meanwhile, gate-centric designs need more logic and less I/O.

Together, Spartan-3 and Spartan-3e complement each other to address design requirements. "Spartan-3 is for I/O-centric designs while Spartan-3e is for those that are gate-centric. The Spartan-3 family is for devices that require the lowest cost for I/O. Spartan-3e is for applications that require lowest cost for logic," Vij said.

Last year, the company unveiled a low-power version of its Spartan familythe Spartan-3Lthat is comparable to ASICs for static power consumption. "ASICs will always use lower power than FPGAs, but with Spartan-3L, we definitely have competitive power numbers."

Apart from Xilinx's Spartan family, the company also sees big opportunities for its Cool Runner CPLD product line.

Aiming high

Market research firm IDC has predicted that FPGAs in consumer electronics will grow to become a billion-dollar market in 2008; Xilinx sees this as a big opportunity for its Spartan devices. Vij also believes that the Asia-Pacific will "continue to be one of the fastest growing elements of the business."

"I'm seeing a tremendous number of design wins at well-known consumer companies in Asia that will be going into production. I'm very pleased with the traction of Spartan devices in the market."

"Low-cost FPGAs have a bright future in consumer electronics," Vij said. "Consumer electronics is, right now, the fastest growing market for programmable logic and will continue to be so in the next few years."

While Vij sees a growing need for FPGAs in higher-end consumer devices, he also believes that ASICs are here to stay, especially in high-volume consumer applications.

"There will always be good places for ASICs because they have lower unit cost than FPGAs. If you have millions of units, or require less product differentiation, the cost savings of an ASIC solution could be beneficial," Vij said. "That is not the market we are targeting. FPGAs target the higher-end of the digital consumer market."

- Jerico Abila

Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

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