Actel's FPGA families get complete overhaul

Actel’s FPGA families get complete overhaulRichard Ball
Programmable logic vendor Actel has announced a complete revamp of its FPGA product lines. It plans to offer three families of FPGAs, based on SRAM, antifuse and, for the first time, Flash technology.
Actel’s desire is to tackle specific needs of each market segment with a different technology. “The problem is that everyone tries to solve all the problems with one technology,” said John East, Actel’s chief executive.
“Antifuse will go only to 75,000 gates, because customers don’t want big gate counts in one-time-programmable products – they want reprogrammability,” said East.
Such devices will be aimed where speed and low cost are needed.  
  East… “It’s better to risk offering too much than risk not offering what the customer wants.”
Serving an entirely different set of applications are SRAM based chips. They will start at 60,000 gates and go up to a million gates, said East. This will pitch Actel against the industry heavyweights, Altera and Xilinx.
“But we’re going to charge $50 for a high gate count device,” said East. This, he claims, is up to ten times less than competing devices.
To aid development, the chips will have built in debug circuitry, allowing internal nodes to be probed in real time.
The final family of devices will be based on Flash memory, originally developed by Gatefield and manufactured by Siemens in Dresden.
“Like SRAM, it’ll be in 50,000 to one million gates, but it will be single-chip, non-volatile and live at power up,” East said. These three attributes are some of the downsides to SRAM devices, which need to be programmed at power up from a special memory chip.
Flash FPGAs will also have a slightly different architecture, using a smaller logic module – a three input gate. This more closely resembles an Asic layout, making it easier for Asic designers to switch to FPGAs.
Three product families coming from five different manufacturing partners is likely to create logistical problems for Actel.
“It’s better to risk offering too much than risk not offering what the customer wants,” East pointed out. “We’ll have all the technology available to us, and sell the customer what they need.”
The first of the three new families will be released by June, with the last before the year-end. Which comes first depends on how quickly bugs are sorted in the hardware and software, East said.

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