Over the years, several companies have dipped their corporate toes in the water with regard to embedding FPGA fabric in SoCs -- one notable case was IBM embedding FPGA fabric from Xilinx -- but these solutions never really managed to gain traction. All this may be about to change with today's announcement from QuickLogic that it will selectively license its proprietary ultra-low power programmable logic technology under the trade name ArcticPro eFPGA (embedded FPGA).
A 30-year programmable logic veteran, QuickLogic has enjoyed an interesting history. It started life as a traditional FPGA company, but subsequently transitioned to offering CSSPs (customer-specific standard products) based on a suite of PSBs (proven system blocks) that address connectivity, performance, and user experience challenges in the Storage, Display, and I/O subsystems of mobile and industrial devices.
More recently, in addition to allowing customers to define their own CSSPs, QuickLogic began to offer a suite of its own off-the-shelf "Catalog CSSP" chips. Designed to address common sets of customer requirements, these devices do not require any further customization from QuickLogic. Often developed in conjunction with a processor vendor, Catalog CSSP solutions focus on rapidly expanding mobile and embedded processor applications, resulting in a catalog of reference solutions.
Now, QuickLogic is licensing its ultra-low power ArcticPro eFPGA fabric for SoC designers to incorporate in their devices. This is of particular interest for the burgeoning IoT market. According to research firm MarketsAndMarkets, the embedded semiconductor intellectual property (IP) market is expected to grow from $3.09 Billion to over $7 Billion by 2022. One of the primary drivers behind this growth is the expected rapid expansion of the IoT market, which is forecasted to reach nearly $11 Billion by 2022.
However, this growth opportunity presents SoC designers with new challenges. Unlike the mobile market, which is dominated by smartphones, the IoT market includes an extremely wide variety of end products and product variants that are difficult to address with a single fixed SoC design. This fact, combined with the steadily rising cost of bringing SoC devices to market, is prompting the trend to increase the flexibility of SoCs to accommodate a wider selection of end product designs. At leading-edge fabrication nodes, this can be economically accomplished using embedded programmable logic.
This embedded FPGA initiative is being launched in conjunction with a partnership agreement jointly announced by GLOBALFOUNDRIES and QuickLogic -- QuickLogic has joined GLOBALFOUNDRIES' FDXcelerator Partner Program, which is a collaborative ecosystem that facilitates 22FDX SoC design and reduces time-to-market for customers. This partnership enables SoC design companies to acquire a license from QuickLogic to embed ArcticPro ultra-low power eFPGA technology in designs targeting GLOBALFOUNDRIES' new power- and cost-optimized 22nm FDSOI fabrication technology, which is scheduled for production in 2017 (ArcticPro IP is also available now for designs targeting GLOBALFOUNDRIES' widely used 65nm and 40nm fabrication technologies).
In order to speed the implementation of ArcticPro eFPGA technology in new SoC designs, QuickLogic will introduce its new Borealis Design Tool Suite in Q1 2017. These tools will enable SoC designers to easily evaluate, target, and define custom eFPGA logic cell array sizes and generate all the necessary design files for SoC integration.
This is really rather clever. In the case of SoC designers who already have FPGA expertise, they can use Borealis to explicitly specify the desired size (number of logic elements) and other characteristics of the eFPGA. By comparison, designers who lack FPGA expertise can simply feed the RTL targeted at the eFPGA portion of the design into Borealis, which will then determine the programmable fabric requirements. The front-end portion of Borealis includes simulation, timing analysis, power analysis, and place-and-route engines; the output from Borealis includes all the standard files (e.g., ASIC .lib, .LEF, .GDS) required by the SoC designer.
In addition to the main eFPGA fabric, SoC designers will also include a configuration macro provided by QuickLogic. This macro can be used to program the SRAM-based eFPGA fabric from a variety of sources, such as an external memory device or an internal processor core. The creators of the SoC may reserve the ability to configure the eFPGA fabric to themselves, or they may opt to provide this capability to their customers.
ArcticPro eFPGA IP is currently available for designs targeting GLOBALFOUNDRIES 65nm and 40nm processes, and will be made available with the new 22nm FDX process in 2017. Availability with other leading foundry partners will be announced in 2017.
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting