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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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