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Miniature mixed-signal FPGAs aimed at embedded systems

31 Mar 2015  | Clive Maxfield

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There are many FPGAs out there in the market, but one thing to note is that not all FPGAs are the same. On one hand, there are massive devices from Xilinx and Altera that can contain multiple processor cores and the equivalent of multiple millions of ASIC gates. On the other, there are some very affordable mid-range devices from companies such as Lattice Semiconductor. We also have some very interesting programmable SoC (PSoC) devices from Cypress Semiconductor that contain a 32bit processor core along with programmable analogue fabric and programmable digital fabric.

The vast majority of the embedded designers I know typically create MCU-based systems, they rarely even consider using an FPGA.

Now, I think just about every embedded designer has at least heard of FPGAs. They understand that these devices can be configured to perform different tasks, and they may also know that FPGA designers typically use languages such as Verilog and VHDL to capture their designs, but that's about it, they don't actually know how these devices perform their magic, and they don't really understand how the design in Verilog or VHDL is "compiled" into the FPGA.

All FPGAS are capable of extraordinary things, yet embedded designers still tend to steer clear of them. Perhaps what is required is some way of "dipping one's toes into the water," as it were, some way to experiment with programmable device technology without making one's brains leak out of one's ears. If so, Silego's teeny-tiny mixed-signal GPAK devices might be just what you are looking for.

I think of these GPAK chips as super-small mixed-signal FPGAs that you can literally design and program in just a few minutes, and that cost only a few cents each. GPAK mixed-signal FPGAs allow you to replace a number of off-the-shelf "glue" chips and gather their functionality into a single low-cost device. In addition to minimising the component count and reducing costs, this shrinks board size and reduces power consumption.

The most recent addition to the GPAK family is the GPAK4, and the first member of this fourth generation is the SLG46620V. Presented in a 20-pin STQFN package (2mm x 3mm x 0.55mm with a 0.4mm pitch) and supporting a supply voltage of 1.8V to 5V, this little rascal boasts 18 general-purpose input/outputs (GPIOs), six analogue comparators ACMPs, three digital comparators/pulse-width modulators DCMPs/PWMs, two DACs, 25 lookup tables (LUTs), and a variety of counter, delay and flip-flop macrocells.

GPAK4

These tiny devices can be used to implement a variety of system functions including comparators, logic, delays, counters, resets, power sequencing, voltage sensing and interface circuits, all while minimising component count, board space and power consumption.

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