Today's news from the folks at Lattice Semiconductor about their new family of mixed-signal Platform Manager devices is really rather exciting. (See also the associated Product Review and How To Design Article).
The term "Platform Management" embraces a wide variety of power management and digital management functions, including hot-swap control, power supply OR-ing, sequencing and monitoring, power supply trimming and margining, controlling power feeds to daughter cards, reset distribution, power-on configuration, system interfaces, and fault logging.
Traditional approaches to implementing board management utilize multiple discrete ICs to implement the major functions required on the circuit board. For instance, individual hot-swap controllers, reset generators, power supply supervisors, and CPLDs are commonly found on circuit boards to implement these functions. This approach can be problematic in the areas of cost, reliability and risk.
Until now, the only alternative has been the Fusion mixed-signal FPGA family from Actel (Cypress's mixed-signal PSoC devices don’t play in this arena). Fusion devices combine programmable analog fabric with programmable digital FPGA fabric. Now there's a new kid on the block – the mixed-signal Platform Management family of devices from Lattice.
The Platform Manager is a single programmable mixed-signal device that provides all the necessary building blocks to integrate the board management functions:
- Up to 12 voltage rails can be monitored for over and under voltage faults using 24 programmable threshold precision (0.7%) comparators.
- In addition to the comparators, the Platform Manager has an ADC, which can be used to measure voltages through the I2C interface.
- The MOSFET drivers are used to integrate sequencing, hot-swap and power OR’ing functions
- The Margin and Trim block has multiple DACs that are used to control the output voltage of a board mounted power supply.
- Multiple power management functions are integrated into the Platform Manager chip through digital algorithms implemented in the CPLD.
- The digital board management functions, such as reset distribution, power-on configuration, fault logging and system interfaces, can be integrated into the 640 LUT FPGA with up to 91 I/Os.
Because the Platform Manager is completely programmable, the unique platform management requirements of each circuit board can be met using customized algorithms embedded in the CPLD and FPGA sections of the device.
Note the last paragraph. In additional to the programmable analog functions, these devices contain both programmable CPLD and FPGA fabric, because each of these fabrics is best-suited to different tasks.
Now, sit up and pay attention, because this bit is REALLY IMPORTANT. The CPLD and FPGA portions of the design can be programmed in the traditional way by digital design engineers using Verilog / VHDL combined with logic synthesis etc. As an alternative, the CPLD and FPGA areas can also be programmed by analog or board guys who know nothing whatsoever about Verilog and VHDL. Check out the screenshot of the design environment interface as shown below:
I'm sorry this is a bit fuzzy, but it reflects the major functional blocks in the device. Clicking on the CPLD block, for example, brings up another window that allows users to specify desired sequence of actions along the lines of:
- Turn output XXX on
- Wait YYY milliseconds
- Turn output ZZZ on
- Wait WWW milliseconds
Obviously this isn’t the real language, but I'm assured that the real language is just as simple as this. Furthermore, you use exactly the same language to define what you want the FPGA fabric to do. When you subsequently click the "Go" button, all of this is converted into the configuration file that programs these blocks "behind the scenes" without you having to worry about any of the underlying complexities.
Now that is smart!
There's also a rather cool Platform Manager design development kit available for what I think is a very reasonable $109.
I don’t know about you, but I think that Lattice have done something really clever here – they've come up with a device that's powerful, affordable, and easy to use – and one that I think could well change the face of platform management as we know it for a wide range of application areas.