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FPGA startup eyes handheld consumer market

Posted: 07 May 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FPGA? consumer electronics? SRAM? startup crunch?

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SiliconBlue is one of a number of promising FPGA startups to appear in recent years, at least some of which are rumored to be struggling. Some fear that at least some of these FPGA startups will fold, as did Ambric Inc. and Mathstar Inc. last year, or be acquired.

According to Gartner's Lewis, SiliconBlue is the most intriguing company among the current crop of FPGA startups based on the market it is focused on. Most of the other FPGA startups are aiming at higher-cost FPGAs.

"The thing I like about SiliconBlue is that they are dedicated to low power and low cost," Lewis said. "Those are the axes to play on as a startup. The reason I think they are hot is that they are focused on the right markets at the right time."

Shankar has previously described SiliconBlue's hybrid flash-SRAM technology as the first new FPGA technology in 10 years. The company's first three products are fabed with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.'s low-power 65nm process technology. The entry-level iCE65L02 has 1,792 logic cells and up to 128 I/O pins. At 32kHz, power consumption is as low as 25?A. The high-end iCE65L16, with 16,896 logic cells and up to 384 I/O pins, consumes 250A at 32kHz, according to the company.

SiliconBlue's devices incorporate FPGA-like lookup tables and a "non-volatile configuration memory" technology on the same chip.

The company's iCEcube design tool suite boasts an ASIC-like interface and works on Windows or Linux. The tool suite integrates front-end synthesis and placement technology from Magma Design Automation Inc. with the company's own proprietary back-end physical design tools, according to the company. SiliconBlue also claims a portfolio of more than 50 IP elements.

SiliconBlue is doing the right things, Lewis said, noting the company's use of TSMC's low-power design process. But Lewis acknowledged that it is very difficult to assess the company's chances for success without more information about its finances or its design win activity.

Lewis said most the FPGA startups are seeing a fair amount of design activity and that they all have a compelling story on paper. "But the bottom line is: show me the money," Lewis said.

But with its focus on the consumer handheld product space, SiliconBlue could generate very healthy revenue with only two or three good design wins, Lewis added.

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