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Chipmakers take on analogue challenge

01 Apr 2015  | Paul Dillien

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Other vendors of programmable analogue chips include Cypress, Microsemi and Anadigm, plus Xilinx and Altera include some analogue on their mainstream FPGA devices.

Cypress is the clear leader in the mixed-signal category and has been successfully shipping Programmable System-on-Chip (PSoC) products for several years. The extensive PSoC ranges combine programmable analogue fabric with programmable digital fabric, memory, and a microcontroller on a single chip.

Microsemi acquired the Fusion range from Actel, but chose to drop the analogue components in favour of security-related features for the follow-on SmartFusion family, somewhat regrettably in my opinion. The original Fusion products merge a 12bit ADC with programmable fabric, an ARM core, and memory.

Anadigm offers dpASPs (dynamically programmed Analogue Signal Processors), which feature a mix of components such as opamps, oscillators and voltage references. It was spun out of Motorola after that company failed to gain traction.

Not all engineers realise that for several generations of FPGA products, Xilinx has added a dedicated capability it calls Analogue Mixed Signal (AMS). Xilinx promotes using the AMS for motor or touch screen control, system management, safety and security applications. This block features dual 12bit ADCs that can convert signals at 1Ms/s. There are 17 channels into the AMS, and these channels can be fed from on-chip or external sources. On-chip inputs allow the AMS to monitor die temperature and supply voltages, which are especially important for larger and faster FPGAs. External inputs can be converted and, if required, further processed in the FPGA for linearisation, calibration or filtering.

Altera recently released MAX 10 devices featuring one or two 12bit ADCs on all but the smallest device. Each ADC can convert an external single-ended input selected from dual function pins, or measure die temperature using an on-chip diode. The inclusion of ADCs in the non-volatile low-cost products promises to reduce the bill-of-materials and component count.

A handful of companies have risen to the challenge of specifying and supporting programmable analogue chips, and providing customers with the means to create and verify designs. This product category clearly fills a market need, as demonstrated by the growing Cypress portfolio, so let's hope that additional offerings will soon enrich the choices available to designers.

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