Tom Hart, chief executive of QuickLogic Corp., isn't bothered that larger competitors are tracing the small FPGA supplier's steps into the world of embedded programmable devices.
In fact, he's confident the big guys will trip over themselves trying to catch up with the $53 million company.
"Don't assume that because Altera and Xilinx are powerful in FPGAs that they will be able to move on and own the embedded space too," Hart said in a briefing with press and analysts earlier this month. "It's really a technology issue, and they don't have the technology to do this."
Hart's remarks were in reference to the recent groundswell of announcements promising FPGAs that integrate complex fixed functions such as microprocessors and high-speed serial interfaces, and of FPGA cores designed to be embedded in ASIC-like chips.
Though QuickLogic, Sunnyvale, Calif., didn't invent the concept, it has championed the hybrid approach since it introduced its Embedded Standard Product line in 1999.
Back then, FPGA bit player Agere Systems was its only real competitor. Today all but a few programmable logic suppliers are making embedded technology part of their main offering.
QuickLogic's inherent advantage, Hart contends, is in the way it links logic gates. Using a transistorless interconnect scheme known as ViaLink, QuickLogic devices can put more signal-routing switches on a chip than more common SRAM-based methods that require six transistors per switch, using more silicon area, he says.
"They're building strip malls; we're building high rises," Hart likes to say of competitors.
While critics say ViaLink's one-time programmability is a turnoff to users who like the security of a reprogrammable solution, QuickLogic claims its approach nets higher performance, lower cost, and lower power consumption.
The difference hasn't been dramatic enough to sell loads of FPGAs up to now, nor has QuickLogic gained appreciable momentum: Its share of the PLD market has remained flat at about 1.3% since 1998. But, in Hart's view, the value of the ViaLink interconnect will become more apparent as OEMs look to embed routing-intensive fixed functions within programmable substrates.
"I think we were ahead of our time for FPGAs, and now we're at just the right time for ESPs," he said.
Moreover, Hart maintains, QuickLogic is in position to dominate the embedded programmable logic segment.
A sliver of the programmable logic market today, embedded programmable logic shipments worldwide are forecast to exceed $1.5 billion by 2004, according to analyst Jerry Worchel of inSearch Research, Phoenix. ESPs made up 10% of QuickLogic's 2000 revenue, but are expected to represent 45% by 2002, used by customers such as Alcatel, the company claims.
The driving forces are a combination of cost and flexibility. "If I've got the ability to use the same device in more than one application, I've saved a lot of money," Worchel said.
QuickLogic has focused its ESP products around key system elements that are broadly applied, such as microprocessors, DSPs, and PCIs. As the company expands its offering, it is looking to industry partners to provide essential intellectual property.
For example, a license for serializer/deserializer technology from Conexant Systems Inc. will result in the 3.125Gbits/s QuickSD II family, expected to sample in the fourth quarter of this year. A similar alliance with MIPS Technologies Inc. is expected produce 32-bit processor-based ESPs by the end of 2001.
According to John Borgoin, chairman and chief executive of MIPS, Mountain View, Calif., the ESP approach may be an easier solution for OEMs than generic platforms.
"A company like QuickLogic, by providing a range of IP and programmability around our core, can help customers get to market a lot quicker," Borgoin said. "It can be a great production solution for a lot of companies, or a great bridge to production for a lot of other companies."
Other ESP families entering production this year include QuickDSP and QuickFC (Fiber Channel). In the next two to three years, ESP families will integrate 10 Gbits/s switching capability, and combination MIPS/DSP cores, the company said.
Meanwhile, QuickLogic has expanded its QuickPCI family. The QL5332 32-bit master/target controller is pin compatible with the QL5032, but adds support for the PCI host-bridge function, all PCI commands, master channel byte enable, target interface retry and disconnect, and data abort.
The QL5432 is pin compatible with the QL5332, but features more logic cells, deeper FIFOs, larger RAM space, and higher I/O counts. The device is the largest 32-bit/33MHz PCI ESP QuickLogic offers.
Prices start at less than $20 in quantities of 1,000. Reference development kits are priced at $1,495.