Are The FPGA Leaders Right? Or The Up-Starts?

As the programmable logic manufacturers stew in their $3.6 billion niche, a few brave souls are trying to solve the two key problems which have always plagued programmable logic products: they cost too much; they use too much power.

SiliconBlue, a two and a half year-old Silicon Valley company, is producing SRAM-based FPGAs which draw 20 microWatts and cost between $1 and $3, said Shankar.

Actel, the smallest of the big four programmable companies, producing flash-based Igloo FPGAs which draw only 2 microWatts and are the lowest powered FPGAs in the industry.


They are having a big success. “Our flash-based products grew 38 per cent last year”, says Actel’s Rich Kapusta.


XMOS Semiconductor, a two year-old start-up, is selling C-programmable multi-core chips costing from $1 to $10 which can implement substantial functions.


Yet Xilnx and Altera, the leaders of the programmable logic industry, persist with trying to make their products more and more like ASICs, with more and more defined, targeted, functionality.


To which end the two leaders have to write more and more software creating more and more functions to satisfy the demands of their customers which present them with longer and longer shopping lists.


Which camp is in tune with the future of the market – the industry’s leaders or the little guys?



  1. Interesting Adam, does it work OK?

  2. Another interesting product is C to Verilog. They allow people to program FPGAs in C. Much like XMOS.

  3. That’s an excellent point Steve, I’m sure you’re right. But it leaves Xilinx and Altera with nowhere new to go.

  4. I don’t believe that this is an either-or argument. The pie is big enough and varied enough for multiple players.
    Vendors like Xilinx and Altera have a strong presence in the wired telecommunications and networking business. Yes, power and cost are important but not nearly as much as density, performance, and high-speed I/O. Both companies make good money in these markets and, in my opinion, will continue to focus their economy-limited resources there. These markets are far less sensitive to price and power than the handheld markets.
    Additionally, both companies have high-volume design-wins in consumer electronics, typically around high-resolution displays, because of their high-speed LVDS and RSDS drivers.
    This leaves room for players like SiliconBlue and Actel. They see a wide open field in the very high volume, low-power handheld market. Sure, both Xilinx and Altera also have offerings in this area but SiliconBlue and Actel make it their focus as a defensible niche from which to grow. Both have very low power products at a low price, some using innovative small packaging.
    The article quotes absolute power numbers for both SiliconBlue and Actel. Having used parts from both companies in applications, the Actel parts do have the lower absolute power due to their smaller density and a special power-down mode. The SiliconBlue parts are larger density (lower power per gate) and require no special power mode. That said, both families use about 1000X less power than traditional FPGAs.

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