Until relatively recently, there were only a few approaches for implementing system management solutions that could monitor voltage, current, and temperature on a circuit board or in a multi-board system. These traditional solutions (and their associated downsides) may be briefly summarized as follows:
- MCUs: Limited features/functionality (limited number of supplies that can be monitored, limited high-voltage support, limited temperature measurements, limited communications options); lack real-time response; require software development; not live at power-up.
- ASSPs: Fixed functionality – lack flexibility; point solutions not platform devices; limited communication options; limited high-voltage support.
- Discrete Analog Solutions: Require large numbers of components and large amounts of real estate; expensive; have reliability issues.
In 2005, the folks from Actel introduced their Fusion Technology, which combines mixed-signal analog capabilities, flash memory, and FPGA fabric in a monolithic programmable system chip (PSC).
Since that time, Actel has established a strong presence in the system management arena. Initially, their sophisticate system management capabilities were focused on the high-end, standards-based and proprietary solutions (such as ATCA, MicroTCA, and IMPI) used in networked control systems in telecom applications, for example. These high-end applications can support system management solutions in the $10 to $20 range.
However, there is a dramatically increasing requirement for lower-cost, less-complex system management solutions in embedded applications such as industrial control, medical, and test equipment. These price-sensitive applications require single-chip solutions with low implementation costs of $5 or less.
In order to address this problem and to enable a broader range of markets to design more cost-effective and energy-efficient end systems, Actel has announced a new reference design that enables intelligent system and power management implementations starting at $1.20.
The design combines the award-winning, low-cost, single-chip, instant-on mixed-signal Fusion Programmable System Chip (PSC) with the optimized, configurable soft CoreABC Microcontroller core to provide a complete system management solution using a fraction of the Fusion part's logic tiles. As a result, the small and flexible – yet sophisticated – design eliminates the need for a variety of discrete components typically used in system management applications, while also offering additional chip real estate that can be custom-configured for the end application.
The reference design provides a complete system management solution that uses roughly 40,000 gates of the 250,000-gate AFS250 Actel Fusion device. This results in an implementation cost of $1.20 and leaves the remaining portion of the device free for integrating additional system functionality such as glue logic, as well as clock generation and management logic. The solution therefore enables significant bill of materials, power and board area savings.
The core reference design is capable of monitoring multiple supply rails (four voltages and three currents) and a single temperature; it also offers five gate drivers (for power sequencing, fan-control, etc.) and it supports post-processing and sets flags for control.
It should be noted, however, that even the smallest Fusion device offers five "analog quads", each of which includes an AV (voltage) pin, an AC (current) pin, and an AT (temperature) pin. This means that the device is capable of monitoring five voltages, five currents, and five temperatures. Furthermore, both the AC and AT pin types can also be used to monitor voltage if required. Users may take the reference design and extend it to use more of these pins as desired.
"Actel is committed to delivering the solutions designers need to engage in more power-efficient system design," said Rich Brossart, vice president, product marketing at Actel. "System management, and specifically the ability to more closely manage power within the system, is a critical aspect to enabling more energy-efficient systems. While telecommunications designers have been leveraging system management solutions at the high end for some time, this low-cost solution extends sophisticated and intelligent system and power management to price-sensitive embedded designers."
Actel's system management solution integrates voltage monitors, current monitors, thermal monitoring, real-time signal processing, PLD functionality and more – often replacing more than 10 discrete components typically used in system management applications. Additionally the Actel Fusion solution allows designers to engage in intelligent system, power and thermal management, data logging and system diagnostics in a single chip, saving board space.
Leveraging Fusion and CoreABC for intelligent power management functionality
Today's highly integrated systems require advanced implementations of power and system management to handle the higher currents and numerous system voltages in smaller packages. This, in turn, creates the need for thermal management as well as the need for efficient battery and system power management, as more and more systems become portable. The combination of CoreABC and Fusion makes it possible to effectively monitor system performance, improve system efficiencies and maximize battery life. As important, Fusion enables easy implementation of board-level power saving modes to optimize or minimize power consumption for other devices on the board.
Using the mixed-signal Actel Fusion device and CoreABC, designers can achieve real-time operation with hardware response times. In addition, CoreABC does not need complex interrupt schemes or a real-time operating system. The programmable Fusion device can monitor temperatures, voltages and currents using analog inputs.
Pricing and availability
Actel's low-cost system management reference design is available now. The reference design includes VHDL and Verilog versions of the design with a detailed user guide. Actel also delivers a comprehensive development environment, including the Libero Integrated Design Environment (IDE) and CoreConsole intellectual property (IP) deployment platform, as well as a broad portfolio of free IP cores for processing, communications, and analog and memory interface.
The Actel AFS250 is available now, with prices starting at $7.50 in 100K volume. The Actel AFS090 Fusion device is planned for Q4 with prices starting at $4.50 in 100K volume. Actel's CoreABC is available for download free of charge with Actel's CoreConsole software.