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Does the Future of Programmable Logic include You?


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Most readers of the Digilent Forums are aware of nVidia's recently failed attempt to purchase ARM Holdings. Most are aware of the successful purchase of Altera by Intel many years ago, as well as the more recent purchase of Xilinx by rival AMD. ( Did anyone not see this coming? )

Some of us have been in suspension waiting a very long time to see what Intel will do with it's new FPGA/ARM vendor franchise. Perhaps we now have the answer: Software Defined Silicon (SDSi).

Speculation is that this is start of a new paradigm in how a few tech "overlords" will control the future. Of course, no one knows the future for certain. But knowing the past isn't all that difficult, though perhaps interpreting the past correctly might be challenging. The new paradigm is that instead of making one design that has features disabled or hobbled in order to confuse customers and users and optimize profits, we will now will have computer chips with hardware that the primary vendor can change, on the fly, in situ on end customer product.. for a price of course.

So what do readers of the Digilent Forum think about the (probable) future?

  • Should CPU/GPU vendors be allowed to own programmable logic companies?
  • How do you see the future for companies relying on FPGA devices dependent on the tools owned by direct competitors?
  • Can anyone see a potential flaw to having a "fluid" HW capability in high-end computing platforms connected to world wide network that is increasing being abused by criminal gangs and nation states for nefarious purposes?

The Linux Kernel has been increasing its support for "non-static' hardware platforms in recent years, much to the relief of ARM based FPGA product vendors. Of course, not all computing platforms are Linux based or open source. ( Just thought that I'd toss this thought into the mix )

I've seen a depreciation of support for the HDL flow by all programmable logic vendors in recent years in the tools. I'm not optimistic. I hate to think of what companies like FB are imagining. Nothing gets imitated more than a bad idea that makes boatloads of money for a few oligarchs.

Edited by zygot
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  • 7 months later...

Hi zygot.

I started to have the same concerns as you when Intel bought Altera. The direction Altera went since it was bought by Intel all but confirmed my fears. And then, to make things worse, AMD bought Xilinx.

I don't know the future either, but the recent announcement from Intel calmed my anxiousness a bit. I commented about this announcement on my blog: https://fpgaer.tech/?p=561. We still need to see what capabilites and prices their "midrange FPGAs" will have, but it is still a ray of hope.

And furthermore, new players are entering the field (of them, I have read quite a few about Effinix, but there are others). So if the worst becomes true and the biggies abandon small and mid range FPGA applications, we can always hope that other players will fill the vacuum.



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Thanks for the post. Obviously, I hope that your optimism is warranted, and that my pessimism is not. The programmable logic business is an extremely difficult one to compete in. It was this way before the apex competitors got interested in owning such a venture. Apex competitors don't seem to have much interest in making low end products, but certainly have an over-sized impact on how the marketplace works.

Historically, there has been 1 or two top tier companies doing programmable logic of any particular market niche. In the early days programmable logic PALs were fuse based and priced as a commodity part. Then the idea of making them field re-programmable by replacing the fuses with EEPROM gave us the GAL.  For the most pat PAL, GAL, CPLD devices were one market niche. FPGA devices, when introduced, were much more complicated and definitely not priced as commodity components. Over time, PLD and CPLD devices pretty much disappeared. Altera kept making the low end MAX devices but the MAX10 looks more like a cheap FPGA than a CPLD from a user standpoint. It is certainly true that a lot has changed since the 1980's making forecasts a lot more complicated.

These days 2nd and 3rd tier programmable logic vendors really don't compete with the 2 top tier players, in terms of tools or device capabilities. For low cost, moderate performance programmable logic AMD/Xilinx is essentially out of the market. Intel either can't or doesn't want to produce MAX10 devices. For a number of reasons, I'd put the MAX10 as a benchmark for low end programmable devices. The device choices from the other vendors is pretty limited, and even more so if you can't afford the cost of annual tool subscriptions. 

I realize that bad decisions have broken the supply chain for most semi-conductor products, so prices and availability issues represent abnormal global market conditions.  Conditions can change rather rapidly. Infrastructure.. not so rapidly. When I first posted this thread, a broken manufacturing/distribution system weren't part of the problem.. at least not directly.

Now it's those bad decisions that add to a pessimistic forecast. Small product vendors design companies rely on readily available  low quantity part availability. When the top tier companies can't make parts to sell then new programmable logic vendors trying to break into a market have that much more difficulty getting started, or being useful to small companies.  Without viable alternatives to AMD/xilinx and Intel/Altera the future, and now the present, still looks like a pretty bleak place to do programmable logic development to me.


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  • 6 months later...
Posted (edited)
I't been over a year now that the two big CPU companies have owned the two programmable companies that cover 90% of the programmable logic market. Today, both are losing money because they have bet big on bleeding edge, high margin, CPUs and support chips that serve a narrow market. A big part of this is the marketing strategy maximizing profits by saturating market segments in a pricing tier structure. That's the good news.

Here's the bad news. Neither company is interested in the commodity programmable logic market that serves a vast array of small to mid-sized product vendors who need these devices. One can't even find a reference to MAX10 these days much less get a delivery date on a particular device. I know of companies that have had to EOL products because of this. Who know how many have had to shelve products because they can't get parts. Neither AMD nor Intel wants to invest in 40+ nm fabs, though I'm sure that there's pressure in the automotive industry for an easing of part availability. This is a freaking catastrophe for western economies.

While government regulators are busy worrying about Microsoft abusing the gaming industry they seem to be oblivious to a much larger problem that is affecting a huge part of their economies. It's time for Intel and AMD to divest themselves of part, if not all of their programmable logic holdings. For the sake of the worlds economic health, regulators, worry about something important ( after making Microsoft split off it's Windows business ).

And, no, that little rant didn't make me feel better... Edited by zygot
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  • 2 months later...
3 hours ago, edenwheeler said:

Balancing innovation, competition, and ethical considerations will be crucial in this ever-evolving landscape.

Who should do this? Governments? Consumers? Industry Trade Associations? Corporations? Does anyone care, other than short-term profit motivated executives? I think that small vendors who's products use programmable logic care. Their customers? Perhaps not... now....

The point of this thread is that perhaps more people should care, even if they can't connect the dots between their interests and the interests of a very small group of people who's decisions affect a huge part of the global economy, either directly or indirectly.

The once high-flying Intel Corporation may not even make into the 3rd decade of this century as an independent entity. Their motivation for Software Defined Silicon isn't too hard to suss out. But even if SDSi comes to fruition, what do people who's businesses are affected by the interests of AMD and Intel, and their customers think about the immediate impacts of decisions by companies who aren't interested in serving their needs?

Obviously, this thread is mostly a philosophical discussion, but one with very practical implications. No one knows the future with certainty. Not thinking about the future, may not be good for anyone. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
5 hours ago, Ben Jonson said:

It seems like the post is introducing a complex issue involving the future of technology, especially with Software Defined Silicon (SDSi) and the ownership of programmable logic companies by major CPU/GPU vendors.

Well, that's one way to put it. No argument here.

The impetus for the post was from a purely pragmatic perspective of someone who's been using programmable logic and vendor tools from the first PLA device was introduced.

I don't expect that this thread will arrive at any conclusions or change the future. It might not be a bad idea for everyone to spend a bit of time thinking about the implications of "progress", both specifically to professions and access to technology, but also in a more philosophical way.

Most of us are like passengers in the back seat of a car; asking "where exactly are you taking me?" might be a reasonable question. Passengers are not necessarily people with no control over their destination.

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, MargaretSims said:

Having CPU/GPU companies own the logic company can create competition and benefits, but also risks monopolization and unfair behavior.

I agree. I also notice that when I expand what is presented as a quote from me has been amended to alter my actual post. Yes, I can read.

I recommend that all readers avoid visiting websites recommend by people who try to re-write history for unknown ( to the reader ) purposes.

Edited by zygot
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  • 2 months later...
Good news for Intel FPGA users! Intel has announced their intention of spinning off the Altera business. This is likely a step forward for programmable logic developers if it means more commodity product like MAX10 will get into distribution channels. Time will tell.
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