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Low-cost FPGAs seen reaching inflexion point

Posted: 24 Aug 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FPGA? Nios? Altera? embedded system? ESC-Taiwan?

Low-cost FPGAs are hitting a new tipping point as they provide greater adaptability to design engineers and thus enable a mindset shift toward system architecture. That's how Chris Balough, director of software and Nios marketing for Altera Corp., described their traction at the recent Embedded Systems Conference (ESC-Taiwan) in Taipei as he spoke with EE Times-Asia about the role of low-cost FPGAs in embedded design.

FPGA can complement an existing processor or DSP for peripheral expansion and to offload computing tasks.
FPGA can complement an existing processor or DSP for peripheral expansion and to offload computing tasks.
Balough acknowledges that FPGA has retained some of its character, which makes it less suitable for certain embedded applications. "Think of FPGA as a processor and how it can perform a lot of functions of a concurrent processor by offloading certain tasks, thus freeing discrete processor for other tasks and reducing clock frequency that will lead to less power."

Moving certain functions from hardware to low-cost FPGAs could therefore bring greater flexibility to design engineers. "An FPGA supporting a traditional processor solution with discrete peripherals for analog and memory functions just complements the one-chip solution," Balough added.

Architect shift
He said that the new architectural shift underlines a strategy of finding a low-cost processor and putting everything else on an FPGA. And with embedded processors like Nios II, design engineers can save cost and power as a result of lower clock speed.

According to Balough, FPGA companies have historically been working with hardware guys. "But as we move to a new design era in which concurrent compute engines enable multi-core processors, the FPGA industry is increasingly talking to software people and system architects."

He also pointed to the evolution of FPGA tools, how the sophistication of FPGA tools is taking a dramatic shift in which we see the incremental creation of ASIC-like tools both for analysis and optimization. "FPGA firms are adopting the ASIC model when it comes to design tools," said Balough.

- Majeed Ahmad
Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

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