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Design issues hamper 6 billion FPGA debut

Posted: 06 Dec 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:FPGAs? IP? licensing? embedded?

Just enough FPGAs in SoCs

Others in the industry may still regard Achrnoix' entry in the embedded FPGA IP business as a bit of a distraction for the start-up.

There has long been pent-up demand for FPGAs among volume consumer SoC companies making handsets or tablets, Holt argued. Look no further than Altera's family of low-cost, low-power FPGAs for the consumer market. Another example is SiliconBlue Technologies, which was acquired by Lattice Semiconductor, which targeted its low-end FPGAs for consumer electronics devices such as smartphones and media tablets.

The difference here is that Achronix plans to license FPGA fabric as IP so that consumer chip companies can use "just enough FPGAs" in their SoCs, Holt explained.

The reason consumer electronics chip companies are clamoring for FPGA solutions is "risk mitigation," said Holt. "Programmability can limit the number of tape-outs." As the consumer SoC's die gets larger, it's helpful to use part of the die for programmability.

Add to that, standards are constantly evolving for consumer products. "There are things that hardwired SoCs just can't do," Holt noted.

Moreover, FPGAs excel at doing complex logic very fast. "FPGAs are good at flexible acceleration of certain functions" on SoCs, explained Holt.

Achronix plans to announce its first embedded FPGA IP licencee in the first quarter of 2013.

Pointing out that the design cost for 22-/20-nm chips could range from $20 million to $50 million, according to recent cost estimates by Cadence, Holt said SoC companies would have to sell as many as 60 million to 100 million units to break even. Minimising the number of tape-outs becomes extremely important for SoC cost savings, he added.

Still, as long as there are SoC vendors looking to use FPGA fabric in a portion of their SoCs, IP seems like good business for Achronix. The company believes it can leverage the technology it has already developed.

Holt said Intel's "one-stop shop" is a huge advantage when compared to working with other foundries that may require a fabless chip company to work with many partners. More important, being an Intel customer confers credibility and quality assurance, especially among global supply managers. "Sure, we may be paying extra for wafer cost," Holt said. "But think about the high yield rate Intel brings. This is paying off for us."

Holt said Achronix is still planning to go public in 2014, but "it's not like my ego is tied to the IPO." The first thing Achronix must do is "become a profitable company within the 12 to18 months" after it starts sampling new FPGAs.

- Junko Yoshida
??EE Times

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