One doesn't need to wander very far across today's FPGA landscape to see how power consumption is becoming a more and more critical issue. As product categories that once shied away from FPGAs, such as mobile consumer devices, open up to them, both static and dynamic power consumption become paramount.
According to Christian Plante, director of marketing for low-power and mixed-signal FPGAs at Actel Corp. (also recent author of our PLDL feature on tips for minimizing power consumption when designing with FPGAs), power has become the No. 1 design requirement for devices, besting size, cost and performance.
Against that backdrop, it's not surprising to see the way the FPGA vendors are emphasizing low power. Actel has made the phrase "power matters" part of the company's logo. It claims that its flash FPGAs lead the industry with lowest power, as low as 2 microwatts.
This week, FPGA market-leader Xilinx Inc. said its Virtex-6 and Spartan-6 FPGA families were granted the 2009 China Award for Innovative Low Power Electronic Designs from the Chinese Institute of Electronics (CIE).
When Spartan-6 and Virtex-6 were introduced in February, Xilinx said they were capable of achieving lower power consumption of 65 percent and 50 percent, respectively, compared with previous generations.
The company said it introduced a number of new techniques and innovations to achieve the significant improvement in power consumption for both families.
Altera, of course, also touts its own efforts to lower power consumption across its entire product line from CPLDs to high-end FPGAs and HardCopy ASICs. The company's high-end Stratix FPGAs, for example, employ multiple technologies to reduce power consumption, including programmable power technology, DDR3 and dynamic on-chip termination and the company's Quartus II PowerPlay power analysis and optimization tool.
For its part, Lattice Semiconductor Corp. claims that its third-generation FPGAs, the mid-range 65nm LatticeECP3 family, consume half as much power as previous generations and offer the industry's lowest power consumption and price of any Serdes-capable FPGA.
In this week's announcement, Xilinx said the CIE award "recognizes the significant innovations the company used to lower power consumption by more than half compared to previous generation FPGAs."
Asked for his take on Xilinx winning the award from CIE, Actel's Plante said: "Actel is flattered to see our larger competitors realize what we did three years ago and directed our company towards: Power matters."
Plante noted that FPGA power consumption was recognized as a primary area of concern by more than 50 percent of the engineers polled for the EE Times- Piper Jaffray FPGA 2008 Survey.
Brent Przybus, director of product marketing at Xilinx, echoed Plante's observation about power becoming the most important thing to customers. A couple of years ago, customers cared about performance first, then power somewhere down the line, he said.
"Now what they are telling me is that they need the performance, but power is really important now and is becoming much more important than it was in the past," Przybus said.
Przybus added that he thinks the CIE award is a noteworthy achievement for Xilinx, particularly coming from a growing market like China.
"The fact that they are recognizing [Xilinx' efforts to reduce power consumption] right up front, we are very proud of that," he said. "We work very hard to give our customers want they want."