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FFSA™ looks to plug the expanding technology gap between ASICs and FPGAs in order to provide a better match for mid-volume custom SoC requirements

FFSA™ looks to plug the expanding technology gap between ASICs and FPGAs in order to provide a better match for mid-volume custom SoC requirements

When looking to implement a custom system-on-chip (SoC), and thereby benefit for the operational advantages that this offers over an off-the-shelf IC, product developers have been faced with two different routes to follow. Firstly, they could choose to have an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designed. This approach results in a high performance, power efficient solution with a low unit cost, but requires considerable upfront financial outlay, relatively long development times and large unit volumes via which to recoup the investment made. The alternative route to take is to utilise a field programmable gate array (FPGA). This approach does not require the heavy initial investment that is associated with ASICs and has greater design flexibility, but it does call for compromises in terms of poorer performance, greater board space utilisation, elevated unit costs and higher power consumption.

Over the last 15 years the semiconductor industry has tried to create a solution that combines the favourable attributes of FPGAs and ASICs respectively with only modest success for most of that time. Consequently those looking for a mid-volume custom SoC solution are not being adequately accommodated by the semiconductor industry. They are having to go for either a standard cell or programmable logic option (neither of which is ideal for their needs), then just hope that they have made the right move. The stakes are high, however, and a badly judged decision here can prove to be instrumental in the end product’s commercial failure. The relentless pace of Moore's Law is only exacerbating the problem, as it means that with migration towards smaller semiconductor process nodes, the gap that differentiates ASICs from FPGAs is destined to get wider.

The emergence of Fit-Fast Structured Array™ (FFSA™) devices is now presenting developers with an alternative strategy, without the risks of the 'all or nothing' approach just described. FFSA’s can deliver ASIC-like computational performance, combined with low power operation, reduced design costs and acceptable unit prices. For mid-volume custom SoC designs that would traditionally have been pushed into opting for an ASIC solution, it means that there aren’t the large upfront investments to worry about plus faster turn-around times are witnessed. For custom SoC designs where an FPGA solution would have previously been the most likely course of action, the system’s power budget and overall price tag are no longer impacted on so acutely by the SoC's incorporation.

FFSA solutions are not looking to directly take on ASICs or FPGAs and steal their established markets. The nature of this technology is that it should be considered complementary rather than competing - capable of catering for a currently underserved middle ground within the custom SoC landscape. 

To find out more about how FFSAs are set change custom SoC development, download Toshiba's detailed new white paper on the subject.

Click here to find out more about 'A Custom SoC Design Alternative to ASIC and FPGA'

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