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Process tech simplifies ASIC migration

Posted: 15 Mar 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FPGA? ASIC? 3D?

After programmable logic startup Tabula Inc. emerged from stealth mode, Tier Logic Inc. took the center stage, offering the first details about its technology, which employs a novel processing change to build FPGA and ASIC products on a single die.

Tier Logic's FPGA's are converted to ASICs by replacing the TFT SRAM top layer containing the programmable configuration circuitry with a simple metal layer, retaining the identical timing, according to the company.

Like Tabula, Tier Logic's technology depends on a 3D structure. But while Tabula uses rapid reconfiguration to, in the words of that firm's executives, treat time as the third dimension, Tier Logic's approach separates user circuits and configuration circuits into 3D stacked layers, creating what the company calls the world's first monolithic 3D FPGA.

The key is that Tier Logic's 3D TierFPGA features one level, or tier, of TFT-based SRAM, creating a more efficient device than a traditional 2D FPGA, a large percentage of which is configuration SRAM, according to Paul Hollingworth, a 23-year-veteran of the chip industry who serves as Tier Logic's VP of sales and marketing.

But the biggest advantage of the device's structure is that it enables TierFPGAs to be converted to ASICs relatively quickly and painlessly by simply replacing the TFT SRAM with metal. A former head of Altera Corp.'s HardCopy product line, Hollingworth said he joined Tier Logic because he recognized the potential of the technology to be "what HardCopy was supposed to be." While converting an FPGA to a HardCopy ASIC requires significant changes to the timing of a design, a TierFPGA can be converted to a TierASIC "much more seamlessly," according to Hollingworth.

Unlike any other type of ASIC conversion, the Tier Logic timing remains identical between the FPGA and ASIC, allowing zero-risk, zero-effort conversions, Hollingworth said. He said the company's "design once approach" delivers same-die silicon with identical functionality and timing for both FPGA and ASIC products.

Tier Logic was founded in 2003 Raminda Madurawe and Peter Suaris, veterans of Altera and Mentor Graphics Corp., respectively. The company received seed funding in 2005. In 2007, the company announced it received Series A funding from investors Matrix Partners and Walden International. The company is headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., but has about half of its employees in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the native country of Madurawe and Suaris.

TierFPGAs claim greater gate density compared to competing FPGAs by virtue of the 3D architecture and higher logic efficiency from greater configurability, according to Hollingworth.

In terms of cost per density, TierFPGAs cost more than 50 percent less than high-end 2D FPGAs and 20 percent less than low-end 2D FPGAs, according to Hollingworth. Converting designs to TierASICs lowers costs by another 50 percent and costs less than $50,000 in non-reoccurring engineering costs, Hollingworth said.

Compared with a conventional approach, where converting an FPGA design to an ASIC requires a complete re-design and takes nine to 12 months, converting from TierFPGA to TierASIC takes only about four weeks, Hollingworth said.

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