SAN MATEO, Calif. Playing off its success with MP3 players, Actel Corp. this week will release a family of anti-fuse FPGAs targeted at handheld appliances. The parts are derived from the company's SX and SX-A families but have lower densities and are expressly tailored for low-power applications.
Actel said its SX-A devices were among the fastest programmable-logic parts available when they debuted last September in a 0.25-micron process.
Development on the new eX family began more than a year ago, before the MP3 craze hit its stride. But in the intervening time, Actel (Sunnyvale, Calif.) found its groove in MP3 players and has sold chips into 90 percent of the players on the market, according to Ken O'Neill, director of product marketing. Actel hopes the eX can build on that success by settling into digital cameras, digital subscriber line modems and digital set-top boxes.
Separately, Actel has begun work on another anti-fuse family, due to appear in 2001, that will represent a departure from the SX, O'Neill said.
In addition to taking designs from low-density gate arrays a traditional target of FPGAs the eX is expected to compete against complex PLDs, O'Neill said. One advantage the eX might hold in that arena is its ASIC-like programming model. "It's a nice easy way to work the migration [to VHDL]," O'Neill said.
The eX uses the same architecture as the SX. Differences occur where Actel tailored the eX for portables and battery-operated devices. For example, the eX is equipped with a sleep mode, where on-board charge pumps are turned off. The eX can reside on the same power plane as a microprocessor and still turn the sleep mode on and off through a toggle pin, O'Neill said. Sleep mode brings the power consumption to less than 100 microamps.
Also, the eX lacks the PCI compliance of the SX family. "Not many customers are going to want to put a PCI core into [the eX]," O'Neill said. "So there's not much point in putting PCI I/Os into this part."
Actel plans three densities: the eX64, eX128 and eX256, containing 3,000, 6,000 and 12,000 system gates, respectively, all on 0.22-micron line widths. The eX256 is the size of the smallest SX-A devices.
The parts contain 64, 128 and 256 dedicated registers, respectively, with twice as many combinatorial registers. The two register types can be treated independently during place and route, an advantage over CPLDs, O'Neill said.
The eX will represent Actel's first foray into chip-scale packaging. Actel said the parts will also be offered in traditional quad packaging.
The eX128, sampling now to some customers, is the first part to be released. The eX64 is due to follow in October and the eX256 in November. Prices begin at $2.25 each in quantities of 100,000.