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SoC FPGAs Integrate ARM Processor and FPGA into 28nm Single-Chip Solution

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Altera has introduced a family of what in these pages have been dubbed application services platforms (ASPs) and what it is calling SoC FPGAs. These are devices that integrate a hard-wired microprocessor and its most common peripherals onto the same die with an FPGA fabric to form a programmable and configurable system on chip (SoC). The new Altera family integrates a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor with Altera’s 28nm Cyclone V and Arri V FPGA fabrics. Since the integration is on a single die, the ARM portion is produced in the same 28nm process. The devices include error correcting code (ECC) protected memory controllers and high-bandwidth interconnect.

The CycloneV and ArriaV SoC FPGAs feature a processor system with a dual-core 800 MHz ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor, NEON media processing engine, single/double-precision floating point unit, L1 and L2 caches, ECC-protected memory controllers, ECC-protected scratchpad memory and a wide range of commonly used peripherals. The processor system can deliver 4,000 DMIPS peak performance for less than 1.8 watts. The processor system and FPGA fabric are powered independently and can be configured and booted in any order. Once in operation, the FPGA portion can be powered down as needed to conserve system power. 

The ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor system and FPGA are interconnected by high throughput data paths, providing over 125 Gbit/s peak bandwidth with integrated data coherency. This level of performance is not possible in two-chip solutions because an integrated single-chip SoC FPGA allows board designers to eliminate the external I/O paths between a processor and an FPGA, eliminating latency and providing significant system power savings.

The CycloneV and ArriaV SoC FPGAs are based on a low-power 28nm process (28LP). These families feature embedded transceivers that operate up to 5 Gbit/s and 10 Gbit/s respectively. The FPGA fabric includes variable-precision DSP blocks and up to three ECC-protected memory controllers. 

The CycloneV SoC FPGAs feature up to 110K logic elements (LEs) and provide low system cost and power along with performance levels that make the devices suitable for differentiating high-volume applications, including next-generation industrial drive on a chip, advanced driver assistance and video surveillance. The ArriaV SoC FPGAs balance cost and performance while delivering the lowest total power for mid-range applications. The devices feature up to 460K LEs and are suitable for meeting the higher performance requirements in applications that include remote radio heads, LTE base stations and multi-function printers.

Altera’s SoC FPGAs enable both hardware and software teams to use common tools and development flows that support both the Cortex-A9 MPCore processor and the FPGA. Designers can create custom peripherals and hardware accelerators using Altera’s Quartus II software and integrate them with the processor system using Altera’s Qsys system integration tool. Qsys accelerates the hardware design process by automatically generating interconnect logic to connect intellectual property (IP) functions and subsystems. Qsys automatically generates an FPGA-optimized network-on-a-chip (NoC) interconnect, delivering higher performance, enabling improved design reuse and providing faster verification. Qsys supports industry-standard interfaces including Avalon Memory-Mapped, Avalon Streaming and AMBA AXI from ARM, enabling users to leverage and reuse IP cores with multiple interfaces in a single design. Because SoC FPGAs are based on the standard ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor, they are compatible with the existing ARM software ecosystem.  

Embedded software developers can get started immediately writing device-specific application software targeting Altera’s SoC FPGAs leveraging the SoC FPGA Virtual Target, which is available for purchase now. SoC FPGA silicon will be available the second half of 2012 followed by reference designs and development boards. Pricing will start at less than $15 in high volumes.  

Altera, San Jose, CA. (408) 544-7000. [www.altera.com].