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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Achronix: Accelerating Growth By Accelerating Hardware

 
August 3rd, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

As a diversified fabless semiconductor company that sells high-end FPGA products, embedded FPGA (eFPGA) products, system-level products, and supporting EDA design tools, Achronix Semiconductor has a history of delivering innovations in programmable logic that set the bar high for performance, power, and cost.

Achronix was founded in 2004 in Ithaca, New York, and has achieved sales of over $100M YTD in 2017, making it one of the highest growth semiconductor companies globally.

The origin of the company’s name was derived from the asynchronous technology it originally supported, but has since moved to a more traditional synchronous architecture which is incorporated in all of its products today.

In 2013, Achronix delivered the industry’s most advanced FPGAs with the introduction of Speedster22i FPGA family with embedded system-level IP for high performance wireline applications. Speedster22i family was the first application-specific FPGAs that enabled and high-performance programmable designs.

In October 2016, Achronix announced the production availability of Speedcore embedded FPGA (eFPGA) IP for integration into customers’ Systems-on-Chips (SoCs). Since then, the demand for Speedcore IP has been very high. Speedcore IP is designed for compute and network acceleration applications and is based on the same high-performance architecture found in the company’s Speedster22i FPGAs.

Steve Mensor, Achronix VP Marketing Interviewed at DAC 2017

All Achronix products are supported by the Achronix ACE EDA design tools that support synthesis, place and route, plus timing closure and debug tools. ACE works in conjunction with industry-standard synthesis tools, allowing FPGA designers to map their designs into Achronix FPGAs.

What sparked the beginning of Achronix, and the company’s evolution to where it is today? Steve Mensor, VP of Marketing at Achronix said, “Achronix has always been focused on delivering high-performance, high-end FPGA technology solutions. Our original products were based on asynchronous technology that delivered the industry’s highest performance. That product allowed Achronix to demonstrate FPGA expertise with high quality design tools. Our next generation product is a synchronous based FPGA family focused on delivering higher lever system performance. That family ramped into high volume production and is the largest percentage of our current revenues. What’s really interesting is that over time companies asked us if they could use FPGA technology within their SOC products for the purpose of having a programmable hardware accelerator engine to increase the system performance of their solution. This was the origin of our Speedcore eFPGA IP product which has now been used in 5G wireless, HPC applications and network acceleration applications and is now our fastest growth product.”

When asked what are some of the advantages of being fabless, Mensor said, “It’s really not that unusual, because virtually all competitors, except for Intel are fabless, too. Being fabless allows us to focus on what we do best. We benefit from lower capital costs while concentrating research and development resources on our end market.

The Evolution of Achronix Hardware Acceleration Products

All Achronix product lines are built for hardware acceleration applications, including:

Speedster FPGAs

Achronix introduced its first FPGA product SPD60 in 2008. SPD60 was a high-performance FPGA product that claimed clock speeds that exceeded 1.5Ghz, while providing high-end hardened interfaces with 10Gbps performance. At that time, 10Gbps performance was considered state-of-the-art. The original SPD60 product was built on 65-nm technology with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC), which was the most advanced semiconductor technology available at the time. As sales of its FPGAs grew, Achronix continued to invest in R&D, building prototype FPGAs in TSMC 28 nm and other advanced process technologies.

In November 2010, Achronix closed a deal with Intel Corp. to be the first customer of Intel Custom Foundry (ICF), leveraging Intel’s 22-nm manufacturing process. At the time, the 22 nm manufacturing process was the most advanced in the world and offered Achronix significant advantages. In 2012, Achronix rolled out its second production FPGA product called Speedster22i. The Speedster22i devices were the first high-end FPGAs that offered embedded IP for high performance wireline applications for communications, including 10G/100G Ethernet, 100G Interlaken, PCIe Gen3 ×8 and DDR3.

Achronix’s next-generation Speedster family will be available in 2018 with a blend of FPGA and hard accelerator structures that offer the highest performance and lowest power requirements for CPU offload for data center and enterprise applications.

eFPGA Technology

In 2013, Achronix began investing in embedded FPGA (eFPGA) technology, which sold FPGA technology as an IP core to System-on-Chip (SOC) and Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) customers. This investment was designed to allow Achronix to expand its FPGA chip business into adjacent markets. In 2016, Achronix formally expanded its FPGA product offering with the announcement that it had begun shipping Speedcore eFPGA technology to customers. The first Speedcore customers received cores that were built on 16-nm technology from TSMC. Achronix claims that it is still the only company that has shipped eFPGA technology to customers for production applications.

Speedcore IP is eFPGA that can be integrated into an ASIC or SoC. Customers specify their logic, RAM, and DSP resource needs, then Achronix configures the Speedcore IP to meet their individual requirements. Speedcore LUTs, RAM blocks and DSP64 blocks can be assembled like Lego blocks to create the optimal programmable function for any given application.

Speedcore eFPGAs are based on the same high-performance, high-density architecture as Speedster FPGAs. Speedcore IP is in production on TSMC 16FF+. Achronix began shipping Speedcore eFPGA IP to customers in 2016 and is currently ramping significantly based on demand in data center HPC applications, wireless infrastructure, networking infrastructure and automotive ADAS and AD systems. Achronix is also developing its next-generation Speedcore architecture that will be available on TSMC’s 7nm process technology for design starts in 2H 2017.

Achronix CAD Environment (ACE) Design Tools

According to Mensor, a significant part of Achronix’s success in the FPGA market is due to its design tools called ACE. He said the ACE design tools deliver the industry’s best-in-class quality-of-results for performance and compile times. Additionally, the ACE design tools offer a broad suite of powerful features for optimizing designs for performance and area. This tool chain is so important to Achronix that approximately 25-30% of the company’s R&D spending is dedicated to ACE. Mensor said, “ACE R&D is equivalent to more than 100 man years of investment with a relatively small team, but we have been working on it since 2007, and have supported three generations of Achronix FPGA products. Issues that customers have encountered have become opportunities for improvement, as we engineer solutions and that become value propositions for customers going forward”.

All Achronix FPGA products are supported by ACE and the company will continue to add features and enhance functionality to support FPGA-based acceleration applications. ACE works in conjunction with industry-standard synthesis tools, allowing FPGA designers to easily map their designs into Achronix Speedster22i FPGAs.

Achronix CAD Environment Workflow

ACE includes an Achronix-optimized version of Synplify-Pro from Synopsys. Achronix simulation libraries are supported by ModelSim from Mentor Graphics, VCS from Synopsys and Riviera-PRO from Aldec.

Standard RTL (VHDL and Verilog) input together with industry-standard simulation ensures that the Achronix design flow is straightforward for existing FPGA designers.

Below is a video that demonstrates the Achronix CAD Environment (ACE) design tools.

Achronix CAD Environment (ACE) Workflow Demonstration

Tremendous Growth For Achronix In 2017

Achronix recently announced that its revenues will grow over 700% year over year and will exceed $100M in 2017. The company attributes this exceptional growth primarily by sales of its Speedster22i FPGA family and licensing of its Speedcore eFPGA IP products. Achronix revenues began to significantly ramp in 2016 and the company reached profitability in Q1 2017.

“2017 is a breakout growth year, which establishes Achronix as one of the fastest growing semiconductor companies in the world.  We are experiencing strong customer demand for both our Speedster FPGAs as well as our newer Speedcore embedded FPGA in hardware accelerator applications. We are looking for new talent to complement a very strong core team to continue delivering highly innovative silicon and software products,” said Robert Blake, President and CEO, Achronix Semiconductor. “Looking forward, we are entering a new high-growth era where our customized core FPGA technology can accelerate a broad range of complex compute tasks in machine learning, artificial intelligence, software defined networks, and 5G base stations.”

The Future For Achronix Is All About Acceleration

The fastest growth segment in the semiconductor industry is hardware accelerator devices that offload CPU data processing and super charge system performance. This segment is expected to grow over 60% per year through 2020, driven primarily by programmable solutions to implement algorithm changes needed to optimize performance for years to come. Of the various programmable architectural options, FPGAs with their ability to create massively parallel structures are the lowest power and the highest performance solutions available.

The enormous data and computational requirements from Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems such as machine learning, deep learning, computer and embedded vision, along with 5G wireless infrastructure are driving the market for hardware accelerator devices that offload CPU data processing and super charge system performance. FPGAs, with their ability to create massively parallel structures as hardware accelerator devices, can be reprogrammed to support changing algorithms and are the lowest power and highest performance programmable hardware accelerators available. Speedcore eFPGA delivers further performance acceleration with 10× lower latency and 10× higher bandwidth compared to standalone FPGAs. Speedcore IP is currently being used or evaluated for high-performance acceleration systems including data center acceleration, automotive ADAS, database acceleration, and 5G wireless infrastructure.

So, why should a prospective customer today consider FPGAs from Achronix? Mensor said, “Justification is needs driven, and big data, AI, and machine learning have been some of the primary drivers. CPUs are essential for this, but there are some things that CPUs don’t do well because they are sequential, which is slower. Companies are going to hardware acceleration by offloading functions from CPUs and performing in massively parallel processes that can involve trillions of computations per second. This need can be addressed by hardware accelerators that sit next to CPUs. Because they are programmable, FPGA performance can be orders of magnitude higher and power requirements can be orders of magnitude lower when compared with other technologies”.

Mensor summed things up by stating the Achronix value proposition: “Going forward, we don’t want to be known as just an FPGA company, but rather, a hardware accelerator company using FPGA technology for maximizing hardware performance”. 

For more information: Achronix

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