| MANILA, Philippines Two recent developments in the programmable logic market have been especifically significant for Asian designers. |
First, low-cost FPGAs have made their way into the digital consumer segment with design wins previously unheard for programmable logic devices. Second, programmable logic vendors like Altera have begun selling semiconductor and related intellectual property solutions to both Chinese system and chip developers.
Altera's low-cost Cyclone FPGAs are now powering consumer applications like DVD players, touch panels and set-top boxes. In DVD players, for instance, Cyclone devices act as line drivers to facilitate compute algorithms. In touch-panel screens, they function as image enhancers.
Altera said it has shipped more than 10 million Cyclone FPGAs in just over two years, making it the fastest ramping programmable-logic product in the company's history.
Ben Lee, Altera's Asia-Pacific Vice President, half have gone into consumer electronics, including a majority used in digital TV applications. Lee said ASIC and ASSP companies didn't see the shift coming because the changes have been incremental.
Altera said it interviewed 300 design engineers during the product definition process to determine the most desirable features and price points. The company, for instance, asked designers if they'd be willing to pay 10 percent more for a specific feature. Features considered dispensible were mostly removed for low-cost FPGAs.
That subsequently led to a limited number of I/O interfaces, exclusion of some memory blocks and, finally, the introduction of low-cost packaging solutions.
For the second part, chip vendors have traditionally sold their chips to OEMs and system design houses. Now, companies like Altera are extending their fabless business model by taking their IP products to Chinese IC design houses, helping them develop new chip solutions.
Majeed Ahmad is editor-in-chief of sister publication EE Times-Asia.