RealTime IT News

IBM Inks Deal To Incorporate FPGA Cores

IBM Monday became the first major company to address the need for a hybrid FPGA/ASIC chip, signing an agreement with Xilinx to bring broad adjustment programmability to its recently announced CU-08 Chip.

Under the agreement, IBM has licensed field programmable gate array (FPGA) technology from Xilinx for integration into IBM's recently-announced Cu-08 application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) .

The deal will enable the creation of "hybrid" chips that combine the attributes of standard ASICs, which are built by connecting existing circuit building blocks in new ways, and FPGA, a type of logic chip that can be programmed to support thousands of basic logic circuits (gates).

"We've improved upon our delivery of programmable hardware by allowing reconfiguration using the same chip. Flexibility is the beauty of combining ASIC and FPGA technology," said Wim Roelandts, president and CEO at Xilinx.

Because of the programmable makeup of FPGA, engineers working on complex chip designs will have the ability to change "on the fly" late in the design cycle, while at the same time maintaining the performance and overall cost advantages of an ASIC.

"Savings here could be dramatic," said Michel Mayer, general manager, IBM Microelectronics Division. "When an ASIC takes on more function, you can reduce cost by eliminating one, two or even more separate chips. With this technology, customers would be able to tweak designs and integrate new changes immediately, eliminating the need to restart a whole new design cycle, bringing tremendous time-to-market advantages."

Mayer estimates that changes that force an additional chip prototype can easily cost hundreds of thousands of extra dollars.

Having the FPGA integrated into an ASIC also enables engineers to take a custom chip already in a product, and by altering the ASIC design though the FPGA core, adjust it to adapt for changing standards or for use in other products.

Three FPGA cores will be introduced with 10,000, 20,000, and 40,000 gates that can be implemented as a single core or replicated together to form blocks as large as 100,000 to 400,000 gates.

According to a Gartner Dataquest Analysis issued this morning, this is a very significant announcement for two major reasons. This is the first time that market leaders Xilinx or Altera have licensed their FPGA technology to another semiconductor company, and this is the first major attempt by two industry leaders to satisfy the existing need for a hybrid ASIC/FPGA.

The new FPGA cores, now in development, are expected to be available from IBM embedded in an ASIC in early 2004, following IBM's full release of its standard-setting Cu-08 technology.