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Implementing asynchronous logic in COTS FPGAs

Posted: 14 Jan 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:synchronous? asynchronous? logic circuit?

Unfortunately, in 2008 the economical crysis arrived to Spain, my country (sorry for my "fast" English), and the project was aborted due to the interruption of economic support. Other coetaneous asynchronous logic based start-ups suffered a similar fate (even Silistix, started by Steve Furber & supported by Intel, broke).

But in the last months, I've seen some interesting movements related to the asynchronous-logic based companies that managed to survive. These movements suggest me that asynchronous logic is going to be (quietly) relevant in the near future.

* First: Fulcrum Microsystem, which was using asynchronous logic for building its High-Performanece network switch chips, was absorbed by Intel.

* Second: Achronix, the asynchronous FPGA company, became the first company in using Intel foundries for building its own devices. Soon after, we discovered that Achronix is going to licens ('licence' when noun)e its designs as IP-Cores for custom ICs... it's clear who is going to be Achronix' first client !!!.

I suppose that Intel is going to use (programmable & fixed) asynchronous logic in processors committed to server / data centre appliances. In fact, SUN Microsystems was using this kind of asynchronous design in at least two SPARC generations before Oracle absorption.

More than this, I strongly believe that asynchronous logic is going to be mainstream in a few years for two reasons: the long time ago announced (and now almost evident) Moore's Law crash & rising process variability in nanoscale digital electronics (A.K.A. unpredictable logic delays). The problem is that the learning curve and the lack of specific EDA tools, make asynchronous logic a very hard to learn discipline.

In order to empower the widespread adoption of asynchronous logic design, I�ve started an open source project in which I'm transferring for public use all the knowledge generated by the Asyncart research & (extinct) company. This project is being hosted in the Open Hardware Repository (supported by CERN) and you can take a look to its contents in the next links:

* Official web page: www.asyncart.com
* Project Repository: www.ohwr.org/projects/asyncart

Nowadays, I work full-time as an embedded system engineer in a private company (and I recently fathered my first daughter), so I cannot dedicate the time I would like to the AsyncArt project. For this reason, the AsyncArt project need to reach some level of visibility in order to build-up an autonomous open source community.

If you believe that the project is worthy enough, your help can be a big impulse. In order to bring the AsyncArt initiative to the maximum of potential qualified users and collaborators, a press-note in some of the publications you write at (or even a blog entry) can really make a difference. I'm following you in the media for a long time, and I know that I'm only one in a huge community made of "Max the Magnificent" addicted (& technically qualified!!) readers.

Thank you very much for your time. Best wishes, Javi

Personally, I have a deep interest in the concept of asynchronous design, so I intend to look into this in more depth. In the meantime, I can certainly help to spread the word ... hence this column (grin)!

About the author
Clive "Max" Maxfield is six feet tall, outrageously handsome, English, and proud of it. In addition to being a hero, trendsetter, and leader of fashion, he is widely regarded as an expert in all aspects of electronics (at least by his mother).

Max received his BSc in Control Engineering in 1980 from Sheffield Hallam University in Sheffield, UK. He began his career as a designer of central processing units (CPUs) for mainframe computers. Over the years, Max has designed everything from silicon chips to circuit boards, and from brainwave amplifiers to steampunk "Display-O-Meters." He has also been at the forefront of Electronic Design Automation (EDA) for more than 20 years.

Max is the author and/or co-author of a number of books, including Designus Maximus Unleashed (banned in Alabama), Bebop to the Boolean Boogie (An Unconventional Guide to Electronics), EDA: Where Electronics Begins, FPGAs: Instant Access, and How Computers Do Math.

To download the PDF version of this article, click here.


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