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Low-cost FPGAs, IP propel Asian PLD market

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

Keywords:programmable-logic? fpga? pld? altera? cyclone?

Two recent developments in the programmable-logic space have been specifically significant for Asian designers.

First, low-cost FPGAs have made their way into the digital consumer segment with design wins previously unheard for programmable-logic devices. Second, PLD vendors like Altera Corp. have started selling semiconductor and related intellectual property (IP) solutions to both system and chip developers in mainland China.

Altera's low-cost Cyclone FPGAs are now powering consumer applications such as DVD players, touch panels and set-top boxes. In DVD players, for instance, Cyclone devices act as line drivers to facilitate compute algorithms. In touch-panel screens, they function as image enhancers.

Altera claims to have shipped more than 10 million Cyclone FPGAs in just over two years, making it the fastest ramping programmable-logic product in the company's history.

According to Ben Lee, Altera's Asia-Pacific vice president, among those 10 million units of Cyclone sold, half have gone into consumer electronicsa large chunk of that went into digital TV applications. Lee says that ASIC and ASSP companies don't see it coming because the changes are incremental.

Altera interviewed 300 design engineers during the product definition process to determine their most desired features and price points. The company, for instance, asked designers if they'd be willing to pay 10 percent more for a specific feature. Features considered dispensable were mostly removed for low-cost FPGAs.

That subsequently led to a limited number of I/O interfaces, exclusion of some memory blocks and, finally, the introduction of low-cost packaging solutions.

For the second part, chip vendors have traditionally sold their chips to OEMs and system design houses. Now, companies like Altera are extending their fabless business model by taking their IP products like HardCopy to semiconductor design houses in China, helping them develop new chip solutions.

HardCopy is Altera's structured ASIC solution that provides a way to get the chip out the door quickly or to deal with tight R&D budgets.

For chip designers, Lee says, this will translate into significantly lower development costs and reduced risk. And for chipmakers like Altera, apart from a potentially new business stream, what makes it more appealing is the fact that they can address multiple customer requirements with single platforms like HardCopy.

Meanwhile, a company designing an ASSP chip, while using HardCopy IP, will still be able to use IP of its own, thus meeting more specific customer demands.

- Majeed Ahmad

Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

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