Renesas enters FPGA market with low-cost devices

Renesas Electronics Corp. has entered the field-programmable gate array (FPGA) market with the introduction of low-cost and ultra-low-power devices. The ForgeFPGA family will target high-volume consumer and IoT applications that only need small amounts of programmable logic in these cost-sensitive applications.

The ForgeFPGA devices address applications that require less than 5,000 gates of logic, with initial device sizes of 1K and 2K Look Up Tables (LUTs). Renesas expects the first devices to deliver standby power of less than 20 microamps, which is about half the power of competing devices, according to the the company.

Entering the FPGA market fits Renesas’ product strategy in a couple of ways, said Nathan John, senior director, Mixed-Signal Division at Renesas. “One, the new FPGA product line can serve as an upgrade path for existing customers that are using the programmable GreenPAK devices [acquired through its purchase of Dialog Semiconductor], and need to support design problems that require greater levels of digital logic complexity.”

These parts also can be very useful to customers as logic extensions to the vast array of Renesas MCUs, he added. “Even with the broad portfolio of MCU devices that Renesas provides, it is still sometimes the case that the customer can find a device with a set of hardware features that is close to matching the needs of their application, but missing key elements. Having a small and low-cost solution to fill in the missing functions can broaden the appeal of the overall Renesas product portfolio.”

Renesas enters FPGA market with low-cost devices

The ForgeFPGA devices are expected to deliver significant cost savings versus other alternatives, including non-FPGA designs, with a projected volume price of well under $0.50.

“There is a class of application problems where the inherent parallelism that FPGAs can provide will yield an optimal solution,” said John. “One of the ways an engineer can attack this problem is to use an MCU, which – if it is running fast enough  –  can in many cases provide the same level of functionality, but usually with a penalty of significantly greater power consumption.”

Another alternative “to the same problem is to purchase parts that provide pre-built fixed functions, such as a protocol interface device, which – if it can meet the system requirements – can be a good solution, but the device may not have the flexibility to meet all the system needs,” he added.

In addition to the cost savings and high level of integration, the ForgeFPGA devices are expected to open up new applications for FPGAs that previously couldn’t design them in due to cost constraints.

John cited a few application examples that would benefit from the use of a small FPGA, including for signal protocol conversion. “Maybe it is something as simple as the output from a sensor is one standardized serial interface and the processor in the system supports a different serial interface, hence the need for protocol conversion,” he said.

The FPGA also could be used to aggregate the signals coming from multiple sensors and turn them into one data stream going into the processor, he said. “One of the challenges in system design that this speaks to is that MCU and SoC manufacturers are always trying to provide the exact right interfaces ON their devices to support the range of applications, but it is impossible to achieve this goal in all cases.”

Renesas referenced an industry analyst who said the low-end FGPAs will appeal to many companies who only need a bit of programmable logic. “It’s exciting to see an established semiconductor vendor like Renesas tackling a long-ignored portion of the FPGA market: small, low-cost FPGAs that sip microwatts in standby mode,” said Steve Leibson, principal analyst, Tirias Research.

“Having scooped up programmable device maker Silego with its acquisition of Dialog earlier this year, Renesas seems determined to repeat Silego’s previous success with its ultra-low-end GreenPAK line of programmable mixed-signal devices and super-simple design tools, this time in a low-end FPGA line that will appeal to many companies who just need a bit of programmable logic – a thousand gates or so – to get the job done in myriad products including billions of embedded sensors and IoT devices,” Leibson said.

The ForgeFPGA family was developed by the same group that introduced the GreenPAK programmable mixed-signal devices at Silego Technology, which is now part of Renesas thanks to its  acquisition of Dialog Semiconductor acquisition. Like the GreenPAK line, the FPGAs will use the same business model and infrastructure, enabling users to download the development software for free with no license fees.

The software offers two development modes, targeting new and experienced FPGA developers.  The “macrocell mode” uses a schematic capture-based development flow, and an “HDL mode” provides a familiar Verilog environment for experienced developers.

ForgeFPGA engineering samples are available now, along with beta design software and a prototype development kit. The first ForgeFPGA 1K LUT device is expected to be available in production quantities in the second quarter of 2022. Renesas also is developing several Winning Combinations that will feature the ForgeFPGA devices with complementary MCU, analog, power and timing devices.

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