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Alex Grove, Applications Specialist at FirstEDA
Alex Grove, Applications Specialist at FirstEDA
Alex Grove has over 20 years’ experience in the EDA industry. Alex has worked for Synopsys, ARM’s EDA business unit, Synplicity, Mentor Graphics and is currently employed as an Applications Specialist at FirstEDA. Alex has extensive experience in the design and verification of ASICs and … More »

Reprogrammable, reprogrammable, reprogrammable: What’s great about FPGAs!

January 22nd, 2016 by Alex Grove, Applications Specialist at FirstEDA

I-loveFPGAsI like FPGAs. My first experience with an FPGA was my university final year project where I demonstrated BIST with four Xilinx© 3000 devices; this was before FPGAs had JTAG built in. Filling up these devices with ViewDraw schematics required many hours in front of a terminal.   Fast track to today’s advances such as Xilinx UltraScale and Vivado HLx, and I hope you would agree things have moved on quite a bit.

Amid all this changes, however, there are some things that have remained constant. Those are the three things that are great about FPGAs: they are reprogrammable, reprogrammable, and, they are reprogrammable!

So how is this capability utilized? Here are three examples:

Electronic products using FPGAs:

I think it is important not look at FPGAs as some poor cousin of an ASIC. This view is from the days of LSI Logic and Xilinx marketing battles, when FPGAs were used for mopping up “glue logic”. Today an FPGA provides a massively parallel programmable digital platform with a lot of silicon IP, such as high-performance interfaces. This capability is widely used by many industries now; it is not solely driven by the volume of parts. Today, you even find FPGAs in consumer products.

However when I look at verification of FPGAs, I am always mindful these are not ASICs and so most likely do not have the same verification requirements. So I question if we should look to replicate the techniques of ASIC verification for FPGAs. As an FPGA is a programmable device, is it not software? What I have found interesting over the last few years, is how continuous integration (CI) and other Agile-like methods typical of software development are being adopted by FPGA design teams.

FPGAs for ASIC prototyping:  

All ASICs have in some way been tested using FPGAs.   This may be as a pre-silicon development platform or IP that has been at-speed tested using an FPGA. Enabled by Moore’s Law and new technologies such Xilinx’s stacked silicon interconnect (SSI), the capability of FPGAs has exploded over the last 10 years. This has led to larger and larger devices, such as Xilinx’s latest UltraScale 440 device with a whopping 28 M ASIC gates equivalent (a conservative 60% utilization).   This growth in capacity has had a big impact for FPGA prototypes, in particular addressing the partitioning problem. For example, today the digital component of a wireless mixed-signal device now comfortably fits in a single FPGA device.

For the rest of this article, visit the Aldec Design and Verification Blog.

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Categories: Emulation/Acceleration, FPGA Design, Functional Verification

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