TOKYO Consumer electronics is rapidly shifting from analog to digital while product life cycles grow ever shorter. Such market changes make "FPGA a must," said Tsugio Makimoto, Sony's corporate advisor, in the keynote speech at the Programmable World held by Xilinx Inc. here this week (June 24).
The advisor is famous for his Makimoto's wave. In 1987, he proclaimed that the semiconductor market swings between a standardization-oriented and customization -oriented periods every decade and predicted FPGAs would be the key device in current standardization period of that he said extends through 2007.
The rapid shift to digital consumer electronics and the increasing demand for faster product introductions made many of Makimoto's prediction come true. Replacement of gate array devices with FPGAs is indeed increasing for applications that require small numbers of gates.
As mask costs more than double when a process evolves to the next gen eration, ASICs lose out against FPGAs, which don't require initial investments for masks. But the high cost of FPGAs argues in favor of less expensive ASICs despite FPGA programmability.
FPGA prices have been dropping drastically, however. The tipping point for FPGAs will be the balance between device factors such as volume, number of gates, clock frequency and total cost. "The cross point is moving. Design engineers should decide which to use based on [close] observation," said Makimoto.
Makimoto provided a rough estimate of the point where FPGAs makes more sense for designers than ASICs in terms of cost. In 1995, he said it was more advantageous to use an FPGA than ASICs for applications requiring a 50,000-gate device running at 50 MHz in 50,000-unit volumes. In 2000, by contrast, FPGAs made sense for applications with 100,000 gates running at 100 MHz and 100,000-unit volumes. In 2005, he said the cross point will go up to 300,000 gates with 300 MHz in 300,000 units.