FPGAs Becoming More SoC-Like
Field-programmable gate arrays are becoming more like system-on-a-chip devices to meet applications in automotive electronics, enterprise networking, industrial automation and military/aerospace systems.
FPGAs are blinged-out rockstars compared to their former selves. No longer just a collection of look-up tables (LUTs) and registers, FPGAs have moved well beyond into now being architectures for system exploration and vehicles for proving a design architecture for future ASICs.
This family of devices now includes everything from basic programmable logic all the way up to complex SoC devices. And in a variety of application areas—including AI for automotive and other applications, enterprise networking, aerospace, defense, and industrial automation—FPGAs enable chipmakers to implement systems in a way that can be updated when necessary. That flexibility is critical in new markets where protocols, standards and best practices are still evolving, and where ECOs are required to remain competitive.
That meant it was possible to have a software programmable function, a hard macro and then a hardware-programmable function in the fabric and they could work together, he said. “There were some pretty good markets for that, especially in low-cost automotive control—places where there was traditionally a medium-performance microcontroller-type device next to the FPGA, anyway. The customer would just say, ‘I’m just gonna roll that whole function into the hard macro on the FPGA die to reduce board space, reduce BOM, lower the power.’”
This fit in with the evolution of FPGAs over the last 30 years, whereby the original FPGAs were just programmable fabric with a bunch of I/Os. Over time, memory controllers were hardened in, along with SerDes, RAM, DSPs and HBM controllers.
Some of the companies embracing FPGAs are systems vendors/OEMs looking to optimize performance for their own IP or AI/ML algorithms.
However, FPGA SoCs are truly SoCs, requiring the same rigorous design and verification methodologies.
READ MORE: Xilinx’s Zynq-7000 SoC.