Why do I stalk the FPGA industry? Well, FPGAs are an important part of the fabless semiconductor ecosystem for two reasons: 1.) They enable very cost effective design starts which are the life’s blood of the semiconductor industry and 2.) FPGA prototyping allows designers to verify their designs before committing to silicon and gives software developers a head start with working programmable silicon. And if that isn’t enough, the battle between industry leaders Altera and Xilinx is Kardashian-like reality TV. Or, if you are into sports, it would be a UFC Championship Match inside the Octagon. In this scenario Xilinx would be Women’s Bantam Weight Champion Ronda Rousey! Oh yaaaaa…
For me the FPGA fight really got interesting when Xilinx moved from UMC to TSMC at 28nm. I remember seeing an entire floor at UMC headquarters filled with Xilinx employees. Then disaster struck and Xilinx was late to the 40nm node. Next thing I know the 4[SUP]th[/SUP] floor was empty and Xilinx people were all up in TSMC’s business. Given the close relationship between Altera and TSMC it really was like adding a second wife to your marriage. The result of course was Altera divorcing TSMC and marrying Intel.
In the FPGA business being first to the new process nodes directly translates into increased market share. Xilinx lost market share to Altera at 40nm but reclaimed quite a bit by beating Altera to 28nm. At 20nm Xilinx beat Altera by more than a year so even more market share will move to Xilinx in the coming quarters.
And this just in:
From tapeout to “Hello World” in 2.5 months!
The full specs are HERE. There is even a YouTube video:
Of course Apple beat Xilinx to TSMC 16FF+ silicon by a few days but still that is very impressive, tape out to silicon in two and a half months. To be fair, Xilinx was already in production at TSMC 20nm which uses the same backend as TSMC 16FF+ so they did have an advantage over Altera who moved from TSMC 20nm across the street to Intel 14nm. I do know that Altera has taped out at Intel 14nm (with MUCH help from Intel) but I do not know when customers will start getting samples. Soon I hope because competition is what makes the fabless semiconductor ecosystem a force of nature, absolutely.
The other interesting news from Xilinx is from an email I just got this afternoon:
Subject: $99 FPGA kit for the curious engineer (that’s you)!
From: “Xilinx, Inc.”
Date: Wed, September 30, 2015 12:23 pm
Okay, I’m not a curious engineer, but even worse I’m a curious blogger, so yes I’m totally going to get one:
The $99 Arty Evaluation Kit enables a quick and easy jump start for embedded applications ranging from compute-intensive Linux based systems to light-weight microcontroller applications. Designed around the industry’s best low-end performance per-watt Artix®-7 35T FPGA from Xilinx. Arty kit features the Xilinx MicroBlaze™ Processor customizable for virtually any processor use case.
More information is HERE.
Also read: Xilinx Skips 10nm