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Ultralow-power FPGA aims to break industry records

Posted: 11 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FPGA? power ultralow? ASIC?

The folks at SiliconBlue have just announced a revolutionary new class of single-chip, ultralow-power FPGA devices, that they say set a new industry standard for price, power, and space along with unprecedented ASIC-like logic capacity for battery-powered, handheld consumer applications.

Manufactured on TSMC's 65nm LP (low-power) standard CMOS process, the new single-chip iCE family of FPGAs incorporate the company's proprietary NVCM (Non-Volatile Configuration Memory) technology, eliminating external flash PROM costs while making it easy-to-use.

According to Semico Research, handheld applications are a rapidly growing market for programmable logic; sales in these applications are forecasted to be over S$650 million by 2010. SiliconBlue's products are optimized for smart phones, portable media players, digital cameras, mobile Internet devices, personal navigation devices, handheld POS systems, medical instruments, educational toys and flash camcorders.

Rich Wawrzyniak, senior analyst at Semico, said, "Power and cost have been issues from very early on in the programmable logic industry. Despite efforts to improve in these areas, traditional FPGA solutions, for the most part, do not meet handheld requirements for power or cost. SiliconBlue's technology positions them to deliver an unprecedented combination of power, price and performance to designers who want to use programmable logic but have not because power was too high or performance was too low."

Technology benefits
SiliconBlue is the first company to combine low-power, NVCM and standard SRAM technologies at the 65nm LP process node. Fabricated at TSMC, the process is scalable to 40 nm and beyond.

SiliconBlue's FPGAs carry their own non-volatile configuration memory on-chip for storing configuration data; therefore, there is no need for the external flash PROM employed by traditional FPGA solutions. This saves part count, space, cost, and removes the threat of "bitstream snooping," resulting in secure designs.

The folks at SiliconBlue say that, compared to existing non-volatile FPGAs, which employ embedded flash technology on two-generations-old 0.18?m / 0.13?m processes, their iCE FPGAs on 65 LP process offer unprecedented ASIC-like logic capacity and deliver the industry's lowest logic cost.

The 65nm LP process, coupled with SiliconBlue's proprietary low-power design is claimed to deliver more usable logic per unit of cost, lower standby power, and lower active power than competing programmable logic products. SiliconBlue uses the same definitions for power modes as handset designers: Operating (active-fast, ~MHz) and Standby (active-slow, ~kHz).

SiliconBlue's FPGAs remain operating all the time, consuming less standby power than other products which require complex power-down sleep modes. Active power remains low through a combination of 65 LP process, proprietary chip design, and operating the logic core as low as 1.0V.

iCE FPGA family
SiliconBlue's first family of FPGAs, the iCE65, is comprised of four members that provide ultralow power in small packages. Configuration is reprogrammable from many sources including secure, on-chip, embedded, NVCM, or external sources such as commodity SPI serial flash PROM or download from processor SPI interface.

Operating current as low as 25?A and lowest dynamic current maximize battery life. Logic capacity ranges from 2k to 16k logic cells with I/O count from 128 to 384. BGA packages range from 3mm x 4mm to 12mm x 12mm. The iCE family of FPGA devices is offered in both volatile and non-volatile versions.

Complete design environment
SiliconBlue's iCEcube VHDL and Verilog-based development software is easy-to-use and offers a familiar interface to guide developers from concept to bitstream. Synthesis and placement are provided by Magma Design Automation, while routing and bitgen were developed by SiliconBlue. The development software increases productivity, shortens design cycles and achieves performance and power requirements quickly and efficiently. The tools include a power estimator spreadsheet for estimating total power of a design.

The iCEman65 evaluation kit provides a complete platform for low-power testing and application development. The board includes an iCE65L04 ultralow power FPGA with over 3,500 logic cells, 80Kbit of RAM, and 176 programmable I/O pins. Designers can quickly and easily develop applications using the USB-based programming solution integrated on board. The kit also includes extensive I/O expandability, supporting four different I/O banks, and a full line of affordable, third-party accessories. Test points provide easy access to all iCE65 voltage rails for easy power measurements.

The first member of the iCE65 family, the iCE65L04, is sampling now with prices starting at $2.00 in high volume. Additional devices in the iCE65 family will be available by the end of the year.

- Clive Maxfield
Programmable Logic DesignLine

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