Mid-range FPGAs offer optimised cost, lower power, better security

Electronics-know-how.com sat down with Microsemi’s Rick Goerner to talk about the PolarFire series of fifth-generation flash-based FPGAs.

While Microsemi has been in the programmable logic business for nearly 30 years, until recently the company was addressing only 35-40 percent of the field programmable gate array (FPGA) market. The launch of its mid-range PolarFire FPGAs, with up to treble the logic density, has increased the market Microsemi could serve by $1 billion.

“There were applications in the communications infrastructure, defense and industrial automation segments we previously couldn’t address, as we didn’t have sufficient density or gate count, fabric performance or things like10Gbps serial transceivers,” explains Rick Goerner, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Microsemi. “With PolarFire, we can address these applications, and compete for sockets of up to 500k logic elements.”

PolarFire is the company’s fifth generation of FPGAs on UMCs 28nm process node, and now offers higher density products with the same compelling power, security and cost advantages as previous families.

“PolarFire’s key feature is that it is based on a non-volatile technology called SONOS (Silicon Oxide Nitride Oxide Silicon), where all our competitors use SRAM,” Goerner says. “The static power associated with SRAMi exponentially higher than non-volatile technologies, including Flash and SONOS. Our non-volatile products therefore are inherently lower power in both standby mode and in dynamic operation; Microsemi devices are as much as 50 percent lower power than equivalent SRAM devices.”

While competitors have focused on extremely high densities, using exotic FinFET based SRAM technology at 10nm or even 7nm process nodes, Microsemi’s uses a cost effective planar CMOS based 28nm process offering a compelling cost benefit as well, according to Goerner.

Microsemi FPGA Focus- expanding available SAM from $1.5B to $2.5B+

SRAM FPGAs are also volatile, and need to be booted from external memory at power up, while non-volatile FPGAs do not have this deficiency. This provides an always--on capability, and reduces system component count for PolarFire based systems, with the ability to boot critical systems at power up. With its cost-optimized process and architecture and the need for fewer components and less complex power supplies and thermal mitigation components, the Total Cost of Ownership for PolarFire FPGAs compared to its SRAM peers is inherently much lower.

Changing Product Mix

Microsemi is going from strength to strength - its total revenue for this year is expected to be approximately $1.8 billion, up from under $500 million in 2009. This steady growth has been driven by both an expansion in R&D and organic growth, and more than 20 strategic acquisitions. In this time frame, Microsemi has morphed from a highly leveraged aerospace and defence company with discrete and mixed signal technology into a much more diverse company with a wide range of semiconductor solutions for applications focused on delivering power, reliability, security and performance to the communications, data center and industrial markets, as well.

“All these acquisitions have dramatically impacted our product mix,” says Goerner. “This means a much more balanced portfolio which gives us the ability to present more complete solutions to our customers. We can now go into [large telecoms companies], look at what they need for 5G, and suggest Microsemi parts for RF, timing and other subsystems. Overall, Mircosemi can be a much broader and deeper supplier to our customers.”

As with all non-volatile technologies, for the aerospace, defence and space markets, PolarFire offers better resistance against Single Event Upsets caused by cosmic radiation and terrestrial particles than SRAM-based products, For communications. This is also true of communications infrastructure and safety critical systems, where SEU is becoming a concern due to the exponential increase in transistor counts and compute density.

Across all applications, PolarFire FPGAs offers industry leading low power and reliability advantages, as well as the best security in the industry against intellectual property (IP) theft and insertion of malware, while delivering great features and data processing capabilities.

Mid-Range FPGA Landscape - PolarFire FPGAs deliver up to 50% lower power to mid-range

PolarFire FPGAs come in four densities: 100, 200, 300 and 500k logic elements. The 100 and 200k parts are available now, with the higher density 300 and 500k products to come in 2018. Their toolset builds on Microsemi’s existing Libero software, with different licensing levels available depending on how deeply the designer wishes to go into the array design. There is also an evaluation board available.

Arrow is hosting a series of technical seminars across Europe this winter to introduce Microsemi’s PolarFire technology to interested designers. Since becoming one of only two global distribution partners of Microsemi, Arrow has introduced dedicated field applications engineers (FAEs) in Europe and North America for Microsemi FPGAs. Arrow can also provide FPGA programming services for Microsemi parts. Around 50 percent of Microsemi’s revenue comes from the distribution channel; Goerner highlights how much Microsemi counts on distributors like Arrow to identify and drive new design-ins. Continuing these close relationships with distributors, such as Arrow, is therefore extremely important.


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