Semiconductor Value Chain

Startup Offers FPGA Fabric, Software For License

02 March 2015

Flex Logix Technologies Inc., a startup founded to bring its field programmable gate array (FPGA) architecture to market as a licensable fabric for inclusion in system chips, announced it is offering its first licensable core. The company is also offering design software and support for including the FPGA technology in an IC. The ultimate benefit is that the FPGA core can be used for hardware acceleration cores that may need to vary according to end product or software profile.

Conventionally, FPGA logic is less area and power efficient than fully designed and implemented logic, but much more flexible because it can be set up to perform almost any logic function. EFLX cores can be used to upgrade I/O protocols, change encryption algorithms to improve security, enable elements of software-defined radio or accelerate data center algorithms such as search.

FPGA vendors have been offering FPGAs with hardwired DSPs and processors on-chip for some time. Now Flex Logix (Mountain View, Calif.) is offering a licensable FPGA fabric for use by fabless chip companies.

Flex Logix has started offering its first core, a 2,500 look-up-table (LUT) core design in the 28nm high-performance mobile (HPM) process from foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. The design includes 20-kbits of RAM, an interconnect network, multiple clocks, 632 inputs and 632 outputs. The logic density is 2.7K LUTs per square millimeter and it requires six layers of metal for implementation.

A single 2,500-LUT core is expected to add less than 15 cents to the total manufacturing cost of a device, Flex Logix said. The same core can be tiled to create arrays of EFLX cores and the company plans to introduce additional cores with fewer and larger numbers of LUTs.

Three company founders, Cheng C. Wang, Fang-Li Yuan and UCLA professor of electrical engineering Dejan Markovic presented the concept for the EFLX in a paper at the 2014 International Solid State Circuits Conference in February 2014. The paper—A Multi-Granularity FPGA with Hierarchical Interconnects for Efficient and Flexible Mobile Computing—received the Lewis Winner Award for Outstanding Paper.

The three authors were joined by Geoff Tate in founding Flex Logix the following month, March 2014. Tate, who serves as Flex Logix's CEO, was one the founding CEO of Rambus back in 1990 and helped guide the company from four founders through an initial public offering of shares to a market capitalization of $2 billion in 2005.

"FPGA technology has been employed for years in markets where performance requirements are stringent and real-world uses are unpredictable. With EFLX cores, we can bring what’s great about FPGAs to a broader spectrum of customers and users," said Tate, in a statement.

Flex Logix is differentiated from other LUT-based FPGAs by the hierarchical network that links the logic blocks and that reduces the length of communications links, the company said. This network, explained in the ISSCC paper, reduces the area required for interconnect by 50 percent and the number of metal layers required for implementation. This in turn reduces power consumption and allows improved performance compared to conventional FPGA architectures.

"Adaptable silicon is a really big idea—and we’re proud to be behind Geoff and his team as they bring their breakthrough to market," said Peter Hebert, co-founder and managing partner of Lux Capital, the lead series A investor in Flex Logix. "If we’re successful, billions of new integrated chips will be based on Flex Logix’s innovative EFLX technology."

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