Xilinx Inc. today will provide its answer to Altera Corp.'s Nios processor when it unveils MicroBlaze, a 32-bit soft processor core claimed to outperform its rival's product two to one.
Initially rated for 50 Dhrystone mips performance at 125MHz in Virtex-II FPGAs, the core will complement the embedded PowerPC solution Xilinx is developing with IBM Corp.
"We had seen a number of soft processor cores come into the market for Virtex, and in our view that was fine. But the feedback from customers was that they would like to have a one-stop shop, so we decided to bring processor development in-house," said Mark Aaldering, senior director of IP solutions at Xilinx, San Jose.
The move continues the tradition of tit-for-tat product rollouts and "specsmanship" between the PLD competitors, with Xilinx touting twice the performance of Altera's Nios 16/32-bit core in half the logic area.
Altera, San Jose, did not return calls seeking comment by pre ss time.
Much of MicroBlaze's speed comes from the use of block and distributed RAM within the FPGA fabric, which allows higher data throughput, according to Babak Hedayati, director of marketing business development for the IP solutions group at Xilinx.
Built for speed
Meanwhile, the processor's structure also lends itself to speed, Hedayati said. MicroBlaze uses a Harvard-style architecture with separate 32-bit instruction and data buses running at full speed to execute programs and access data out of on-chip or external memory. The core contains 800 lookup tables and 32 general purpose registers with three-operand instruction format. Its standard peripheral set is designed to work with IBM's CoreConnect on-chip bus to simplify core integration.
The core is designed for multiple instantiations on a single chip-for example, with the PowerPC as the main CPU and several MicroBlaze cores as slave peripherals. Another likely use is in state machine applications.
"Soft processors hav e never been fast or small enough that it made sense to put 10, 20, or 30 of these on a chip," Hedayati said. "In certain versions of Virtex II, you can instantiate 100 microprocessors on a single chip."
MicroBlaze is in beta sampling, with production slated for late summer. GNU-based development tools are being fine-tuned, according to the company, but are expected to be ready by May. Site licenses for the MicroBlaze core, with peripherals and tools, are $495, with no per-use royalties attached.
Xilinx plans to offer 75 D-mips versions of the core by late summer, and 100 D-mips versions by next year.