The field programmable gate array (FPGA) is shaping up to be a major design element for next-generation enterprise technology tasked with boosting computing and network performance while cutting power consumption.
While these devices are generally slower than ASICs, they can be combined with microprocessors to take up such functions as signal processing and hardware emulation, freeing up resources for other tasks.
Earlier this month, two small companies called Celoxia and DRC Corp. unveiled an Opteron-based workstation sporting a dynamically reconfigurable co-processor module outfitted with Xilinx' Virtex-4 FPGA. Although initial reports claimed a 10- to 20-fold increase in application acceleration while drawing less than half the power of a typical desktop, the company later revised it to upwards of a 100-fold increase in certain high-performance computing environments. If true, that would be a considerable performance boost, one that would be hard for many systems integrators to ignore.
This week sees the introduction of Altera's EP3SL150 device, the first release for the new Stratix III line engineered at 65 nm. The chip holds 150,000 programmable logic elements and supports DDR3 SDRAM. The company is aiming the chip at high-performance computing and enterprise networking systems.
Altera is also likely to see a longer shelf life for the Stratix II GX FPGAs as well. A company called Dune Networks has released a new code implementation for the chips based on the SPAUI interconnect. SPAUI is an extension of the XAUI (it's the Roman numeral 10 followed by Attachment Unit Interface -- I'm not sure what the SP stands for) standard used for connecting 10 GbE ports to each other. The move should allow the creation of even denser 10 GbE applications by incorporating improved packet headers and in-band flow control.
FPGAs are also capturing the imaginations of the younger designers -- and I mean younger. This article in EE Times highlights the workings of Carson Page, who is already adept at programming Actel FPGAs at the tender age of eight. Carson's dad, it seems, is an Actel customer and managed to hook the boy up with the company's development kit and evaluation board that lets him design simple circuits for basic functions, and spot the occasional bug in the software as well.
FPGAs are sought after primarily because they are reprogrammable after they leave the fab, which allows for shorter development times. And that means new FPGA- equipped networking devices are likely to be here sooner, rather than later.