More of Moore: the sequel

April 30, 2018

In my previous blog post I talked about the trends of semiconductor technology and Moore’s Law. I played with the words “more” and how semiconductor feature size reduction has led to more resources and more possibilities.

Increased resources impact how designers architect the internal feature of processing technologies. Functional consolidation has been an ongoing trend for digital processors for many years:  examples are multi-core, integrated memory controllers, cache systems, and peripheral interfaces like PCIe.

In FPGAs, functional consolidation of embedded CPUs with a reconfigurable fabric has been popularized by Xilinx with their ‘Zynq’ branded multiprocessor system-on-chip (MPSoC) products. Interestingly, functional consolidation is not limited to digital devices; it also has extended into RF and I/O. In commercial wireless, there has been a consolidation of RF front end modules with amplification, switching, linearization, and multiple protocol support for many years for mobile devices.

One trend is obvious: functions are being pulled into the system-on-chip in a big way. The big question is: what’s the right mix of functions on a single chip - and where do we stop? I believe the answer is: “It depends on the application”.

Lines will blur

The reality is that, today, some architectures are better suited than others for certain applications.
CPUs, FPGAs, and GPU architectures still have a place: perhaps in 10 years’ time, these lines will blur and a unified processing architecture will be common to address any application.

That day may be here sooner than we think.

Anyone who has been paying attention to the DSP and I/O universe has to be aware of the latest Xilinx disruption to this space with their RFSoC device. The radio frequency system-on-chip - RFSoC - is truly an amazing piece of integration and functional consolidation. With a quad core processor, a reconfigurable FPGA fabric, and up to 16 RF Inputs and 16 RF outputs, it has the potential to be a true game-changer in the RF and DSP applications space.

Anyone who knows me understands that I’m passionate about FPGA and RF technology. It goes without saying that I’m truly excited to see how this device gets used in aerospace and defense applications.

First to market

Recently, we proudly announced that we are the first to deliver a COTS product based on this device: the VP430. While the RFSoC design support packages from Xilinx are only just being offered to the wider market and devices are still being delivered as ‘engineering samples,’ we’ve worked hard to bring this technology to our customers as fast as possible. We’re motivated by what being first to market brings to customers in terms of capabilities and the purpose those capabilities drive.

Ultimately, for defense applications, getting the best capability in the hands of our military truly means we are helping preserve freedom. Being an ex-Navy Second Class Petty Officer, I still have friends today who serve our military to defend freedom.  My roommate from NAVAIR in 1997, Donald Henshaw, today is a Lieutenant Commander supporting the Pacific fleet in air and missile defense. It’s patriots like Donald who I think of when we are delivering this technology to our customers. This purpose - giving the best technology to these brave service members so they can operate and come home safely – is what motivates me every day.

About the Author

Haydn Nelson

Having been an engineer most of his career, Haydn is passionate about technology—especially FPGAs and RF. Having worked in a number of industries from mil/aero research to RF semiconductor test, his broad experience and knowledge of EW and communications systems gives him a unique view of multi-disciplinary technology. Starting as a research engineer then becoming a field applications engineer, Haydn’s passion for communicating and working with customers led him to join the dark side in 2012—marketing… He joined Abaco as part of the 4DSP acquisition, and is based at our DSP Innovation Center in Austin, Texas.

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