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FPGAs promise to make smart devices smarter

18 Jul 2014  | Max Maxfield

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Lattice Semiconductor has unveiled the iCE40 Ultra FPGA family that the company said offers a number of enhancements and features. On top of its programmable fabric, these small, low-cost FPGAs also contain a suite of hard IP cores that improve performance while reducing power consumption.

Take the three 24mA constant current sinks, for example. These pulse-width modulated (PWM) outputs can be used to control three regular LEDs or one tri-coloured LED, and to provide the sophisticated effects, such as "breathing" that today's users have come to expect.

If an ASSP got married to an FPGA, then the members of the iCE40 Ultra family would be their children. These devices are geared for creating interface and protocol bridges, implementing timing and control systems, realising state machines and process algorithms, and providing "instant-on" and "always-on" functionality without having to wake the main power-guzzling application processor.

iCE40 Ultra

The smallest iCE40 Ultra device comes in a wafer-level chip-scale (WLCS) package measuring just 1.7 x 2.1 x 0.45mm. In addition to consumer handheld devices, including, but not limited to, smartphones, tablets and wearables, iCE40 Ultra FPGAs also target industrial, over-the-counter medical, and scientific handheld devices that can benefit from their small size and high performance.

For those who want to experiment, a breakout board is available with the 36-ball WLCSP package on board along with LEDs to run the RGB LED and infrared LED functions.

Lattice said the iCE40 Ultra FPGAs are available for less than $0.50 each in volume, but they don't say what type of "volume" we're talking about. Based on the fact that Lattice is really starting to target high-volume markets, I'd guess that we're talking about typical smartphone-type volumes here, which would be... hmmm... I'm guessing 1 to 5 million units, maybe?

All previous iCE40LM reference designs are available for the iCE40 Ultra, along with an iCE40 Ultra System demonstration platform on the website.

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