To expand its high-reliability FPGA niche, Actel Corp. today will launch a family of radiation-tolerant devices it said will give designers of space-bound systems more performance for a lower total cost than using ASICs.
The RTAX-S family, consisting of two products, is Actel's first for military/ aerospace to offer a high gate count, embedded RAM, and high bandwidth, creating what the company said will be a practical alternative to ASICs in payload applications. The devices offer the equivalent of 250,000 ASIC gates, 288 Kbytes of RAM, 300MHz performance, and 684 user I/Os.
Actel has historically been a strong contributor to satellite bus applications, with approximately 75% penetration of programmable logic-based designs. The increased performance and features of the RTAX-S parts will allow the company to address satellite payloads, an area typically served by ASICs and occasionally by SRAM-based FPGAs, according to Ken O'Neill, director of marketing for military and aerospace products at the Sunnyvale, Calif., company.
SRAM-based FPGAs have an inherent problem of configuration data being corrupted by exposure to radiation. But Actel said its RTAX-S devices overcome this, in part by using the company's antifuse technology and by offering a user-selectable error detection and correction feature that protects circuitry from radiation effects, O'Neill said.
However, the main advantage will be as a replacement for expensive ASICs, said Barry Marsh, vice president of product marketing at Actel.
"Space is probably the last market you would think would use ASICs, but they're one of the few components that can work in that harsh environment," Marsh said. "The problem is that nonrecurring engineering NRE fees are typically $1 million, amortized over as few as 50 pieces."
Long design cycles and re-spins can throw off launch schedules as well, Marsh said.
Including the unit price and amortized NRE fees and tools costs, radiation-hardened ASICs can run upward of $25,000 each. Actel is beginning RTAX-S pricing at $14,000.
The RTAX-S FPGAs are based on Actel's 0.15-micron AX antifuse architecture, so designers can prototype using a $100 Axcelerator part until production-qualified RTAX-S FPGAs are available in the second half of 2004, Marsh said.
Actel is also releasing a MIL-STD-1553B-compliant bus controller core, supporting a data connection standard widely used in satellite and terrestrial military systems. The core has a selectable 12-, 16-, 20-, and 24MHz system clock and a synchronous or asynchronous interface to internal or external memory.
Designed to support Actel's radiation-tolerant, antifuse, and flash FPGA families, the core complements the company's earlier '1553B remote terminal core. In 2004, Actel plans to introduce a bus monitor core to round out its MIL-STD serial data bus offering.
The RTAX-S family consists of the '1000S, with 1 million system gates (125,000 ASIC gates), and the '2000S, with 2 million system gates (250,000 ASIC gates). The family is supported by current versions of Actel's Libero design environment and Actel Design-er tool suite.
The Actel devices ship in hermetically sealed ceramic QFPs or ceramic column grid arrays.