Monday, November 2, 2009

Altera expands low-cost Cyclone FPGA series

Altera Corp. has introduced the Cyclone IV FPGAs, thereby expanding the success of the low-cost Cyclone series.

The Cyclone IV GX is said to be the lowest cost, lowest power FPGAs with transceivers, and the Cyclone IV E has helped it extend the lead in combining low cost, low power, and high functionality. Simultaneously, Altera also extended its transceiver portfolio leadership.

The Cyclone IV FPGA family offers two variants. Cyclone IV GX devices have up to 150K logic elements (LEs), up to 6.5-Mbits of RAM, up to 360 multipliers, and up to eight integrated 3.125-Gbps transceivers supporting mainstream protocols including Gigabit Ethernet (GbE), SDI, CPRI, V-by-One and Cyclone IV GX has hard IP for PCI Express (PCIe).

According to Jennifer Lo, Senior Marketing Manager, Altera, the company is pushing bandwidth limits in cost-sensitive markets and products -- specifically, smartphones, wireless communications, industrial Ethernet, broadcast and 3D displays. There is said to be a huge demand from Latin America, Asia, etc., specifically in wireless. Altera is providing a low cost, low power solution. Next, the trend is also moving from 2D to 3D displays. In broadcast it is moving to high bandwidth, in order to support HD video.

Easier for designers to debug FPGA designs
With the new Cyclone IV, will it become easier for designers to debug FPGA designs, especially when looking at the hardware and software aspects? Lo said that ease of use has always been a focus for low-end products for Altera.

"To that end, with Cyclone IV FPGA’s, like other Cyclone series, we strive to provide reference designs, design examples, development boards to customers to jump-start their design. With respect to debugging, we don’t see any particular differences between Cyclone IV and previous Cyclone generations.

"However, with more training, both fundamental trainings offered free on-line and more in-depth instructor-led trainings are available to help customers get accustomed with the Altera design methodology and use of our Industry-leading development software," she added.

Altera had introduced the Cyclone III LS FPGA development kit, as well as shipments of industry's first FPGAs with integrated 11.3-Gbps transceivers. How are all of these going to help Altera overall, given that Q3 saw a 3 percent increase; and help boost FPGA sales?

Lo said: "FPGAs usually have a longer design cycle (at least a few months before prototyping and another few months till mass production. With the recent few product additions, Altera is in a technology leadership position that we are all very proud of and confident that we will be able to reap the results of in the near future."

Product goals to address market requirements
Commenting on the product features, the Cyclone IV FPGA family supports mainstream transceiver protocols and has the core functionality to address targeted applications.

The new FPGA family also facilitates probably the lowest system cost -- in terms of lowest device cost, reduced board and BOM cost, and fastest time to volume production. Also, it meets the most strict power budgets with increased functionality.

Focusing on Altera's transceiver portfolio leadership, the company is said to be the only supplier shipping FPGAs with 11.3Gbps transceivers. The Altera Cyclone IV GX has 3.125Gbps transceivers. The Arria II GX, shipping now, features 3.75 Gbps transceivers, while the HardCopy IV GX and Stratix IV GX feature 8.5Gbps transceivers. The Stratix IV GT features 11.3Gbps transceivers. Lo added that the company needs to make sure that the products supports all latest transceiver protocols.

Cyclone IV FPGAs
Altera's Cyclone IV FPGAs are currently said to be the lowest cost, lowest power, integrated transceivers.

Lowest system cost
* Smallest density FPGA with transceivers
* Integrated hard IP
-- PCIe x1, x2, x4
-- Transceivers built from ground up for low cost
* Requires only two power supplies
* Wirebond packages

Lowest power
* 60nm low-power process
* PCIe to GbE bridge for <1.5W

High functionality
* Up to 150K logic elements (LEs)
* Up to 6.5-Mbit RAM and 360 multipliers for DSP-intensive applications
* Up to eight integrated 3.125-Gbps transceivers

As an example, when used in consumer video displays, the new family will meet high video-quality requirements fast and cost effectively. When used in a broadcast video capture card, it helps save over 30 percent system cost.

ASSP replacement
Cyclone IV FPGAs provide a cost that rivals ASSPs. It also offers unmatched flexibility to support multiple protocols. Besides, being obsolescence proof, it reduces cost as well. It cal also replace simple bridge ASSPs -- for example, PCI to PCIe, PCIe to GbE, etc. The FPGA family can also replace industrial Ethernet ASICs/ASSPs.

The Cyclone IV FPGAs can be used across all market segments -- wireless, wireline, consumer, industrial, broadcast, and test and medical -- to address cost-sensitive applications. It aims to help designers meet their cost-sensitive product targets for increased bandwidth.

Quartus II software v9.1 released
Altera also released the new Quartus II Software Version 9.1, which facilitates compile time advantage. What is the difference between the new version and the earlier one?

According to Lo, In the latest v9.1 of the Quartus II development software, new features and enhancements are added to reduce the compile times 20 percent vs. older versions.

"In addition, we have added a Rapid Recompile feature, which maximizes designer productivity when making small engineering change order (ECO)-style designs changes after a full compile is run, reducing compilation times by 50 percent on average vs. running another full compile on the design.

"By preserving critical timing during late design changes, Rapid Recompile can also significant reduce the timing closure workload on designers," she added.

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