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Flex Logix unveils FPGA Core Family for SoC designs

27 Feb 2015  | Clive Maxfield

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System-on-chip (SoC) devices today have great capacity and performance, as well as improved cost, time and resources associated with their design and verification. But at least one problem remains. Any algorithms on SoC implements are effectively "frozen in silicon," which makes it difficult to accommodate constantly evolving communication protocols.

Also, a problem arises with an SoC design, missing a product cycle can cost untold millions of dollars in revenue. A very common solution is for the SoC to have an associated field programmable gate array (FPGA) sitting alongside it on the circuit board. The advantage of the FPGA's programmable fabric is that it can be reconfigured to fix problems and to address evolving algorithms. The disadvantages of using a stand-alone FPGA in the system are additional cost, additional power consumption and bigger circuit boards.

There's also the number of pins and tracks required to connect the SoC to the FPGA, along with routing and congestion considerations at the board level. Furthermore, in addition to being the source of a large portion of the additional power consumption, this inter-chip interconnect also impacts the overall performance of the system.

The obvious solution is to embed one or more FPGA IP cores inside the SoC. This solution is so obvious, in fact, that it's been tried many times before. Take the programmable logic intellectual property licensing company called M2000, for example. This company was founded in France in 1996, which is almost 20 years ago at the time of this writing, but they never seemed to make much headway in the market.

As another example, in 2002 Xilinx and IBM announced that they had signed an agreement under which IBM licensed FPGA technology from Xilinx for integration into IBM's Cu-08 ASICs. You don't hear either of these companies talking about this anymore, which some may take to indicate that the result was a dismal failure (of course, there's always the possibility that the outcome was such an incredible success that IBM doesn't want to give the game away).

All of which leads us to a company called Flex Logix Technologies, which has just emerged from stealth mode to announce a new FPGA IP offering—the EFLX Core Family. These cores allow designers to change the functionality of their SoC's silicon without having to change the silicon itself.

The EFLX FPGA fabric allows things like I/O protocols, encryption algorithms, radio filters and other "fixed" functions to be upgraded on-the-fly. Furthermore, having the FPGA fabric on-chip in the SoC saves on system cost and board real-estate, while also increasing performance and reducing power consumption.

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