Larry Getman, Xilinx
EETimes (10/17/2011 5:13 PM EDT)
In March of 2011, Xilinx officially announced the first four devices of its new 28nm Zynq-7000 Extensible Processing Platform (EPP) family. Each of these devices merges an ARM dual-core Cortex-A9 MPCore processing system with a NEON media engine and a double-precision floating-point unit on the same IC, along with Level 1 and Level 2 caches, memory controllers, large programmable-logic blocks and a slew of commonly used peripherals. Creating a device that offers design teams the broadest range of programmable options has been a challenging process, but also a highly rewarding one.
Microprocessors aren’t new to the FPGA world. In fact, FPGA vendors have been offering various types of processors for their FPGAs ever since FPGA transistor counts grew big enough to accommodate them. In the late 1990s FPGA vendors started offering soft cores (8-bit, 16-bit and then 32-bit processor cores in Verilog or VHDL, or as prerouted netlists) that hardware designers could program into FPGAs with synthesis and place-and-route tools. Then, in the early 2000s, Moore’s Law made enough transistor real estate available to allow FPGA vendors to implement microprocessors in the silicon itself, next to programmable-logic blocks. Implementing cores in the fabric itself saves space on the chip for programmable logic, speeds processing and overall performance of the chip, and lowers power. Xilinx used this method when it implemented PowerPC processors in derivatives of its Virtex-4 and Virtex-5 devices. Those FPGAs continue to be very successful in some markets, but the company felt the need to take the concept to the next level, with a fully encapsulated processing system that appeals to a wider audience than just hardware designers.
These PowerPC-based FPGAs formed the groundwork for the new technology that Xilinx believes will prove revolutionary in the electronics industry—a device that will make such an impact that it will create an entirely new class of semiconductor product. We call it the Extensible Processing Platform (EPP).
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