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  • How standard-cell based eFPGA IP can offer maximum safety, flexibility and TTM?

    Writing a white paper is never tedious, and when the product or the technology is emerging, it can become fascinating. Like for this white paper I have written for Menta “How Standard Cell Based eFPGA IP are Offering Maximum Flexibility to New System-on-Chip Generation”. eFPGA technology is not really emerging, but it’s fascinating to describe such a product: if you want to clearly explain eFPGA technology and highlight the differentiators linked with a specific approach, you must be subtle and crystal clear!

    Article: Happy Holidays-menta-efpga-architecture.jpg

    Let’s assume that you need to provide flexibility to a system. Before the emergence of eFPGA, the only way was to design a FPGA, or to add a programmable integrated circuit companion device (the FPGA) to an ASIC (the SoC). Menta has designed a family of FPGA blocks (the eFPGA) which can be integrated like any other hard IP into an ASIC. It’s important to realize that designing eFPGA IP product is not just cutting a FPGA block that you would deliver as is to an ASIC customer.

    eFPGA is a new IP family that a designer will integrate into a SoC, and in this case, every IP may be unique. Menta is offering to the SoC architect the possibility to define a specific eFPGA where logic and memory size, MAC and DSP count are completely customizable, as well as the possibility to include inside this eFPGA certain customer defined blocks.

    Menta has recently completed the 4th generation of eFPGA IP (the company has been started 10 years ago) and the vendor offers some very specific features to build a solution more attractive than these offered by the competition. Why is Menta eFPGA IP more attractive? We will see that the solution is more robust, the architecture provides maximum flexibility and the porting to different technology node is safer and faster, allowing faster time-to-market. This solution also allows smoother integration in the EDA flow, including easier testability.

    When most of FPGA are programmed via internal SRAM (as well as most of eFPGA), Menta has decided to rely on D-Flip-Flop for the programming. This approach makes the eFPGA safer, and for two reasons. At first, when SRAM are known to be prone to Single Upset Event (SUV), DFF show a better SUV immunity. The reason is very simple, the most significant factor is the physical size of the transistor geometries (smaller means less SEU energy required to trigger them), and the DFF geometry is larger than the equivalent storing cell in SRAM. That’s why Menta eFPGA architecture is well suited for automotive application, for example.

    The second argument for a better safety is that designing programming SRAM will be based on a full custom approach, requiring new characterization every time you change technology node, when Menta is using DFF from a standard cell library, or pre-characterized, by the foundry or the library vendor.

    In the white paper, you will learn why Menta eFPGA architecture eFPGA provide maximum flexibility, as the designer can include logic, memory, and internal I/O banks, infer pre-defined (by Menta) DSP primitives or include custom (made by the designer) DSP blocks.

    Really, the key differentiator is linked with the decision to base eFPGA architecture only on standard blocks. The logic is based on standard cells, as well as the DSP primitives and internal I/O banks. Once Menta has validated eFPGA IP on a certain technology node, any customer defined eFPGA will be correct by construction. When a “mega cell” is only made of standards cells characterized by the foundry or the library vendor, the direct two consequences are safety and ease of use.

    Safety because there is no risk of failure when using pre-characterized library and ease of use because the “mega cell” will integrate smoothly into the EDA flow. All required models or deliverables are already provided and guaranteed accurate by standard-cell library providers. There is a subtler consequence, which may have a significant impact on safety and time-to-market. If the SoC customer, for any reason, has to target a different technology node, the porting is accelerated due to the absence of full custom blocks as there is no need for a complete characterization, this has been previously done by the library provider. No full-custom block also greatly minimizes the risk of failure during the porting.

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    Menta has developed a patented technology (System and Method for Testing and Configuration of an FPGA) to offer to the designer a standard DFT approach. The eFPGA testability is based on multiplexed scan, using boundary scan isolation wrapper. Once again, the selected approach allows following a standard design flow.

    By reading this white paper, you will also learn about the specific design flow to define the eFPGA itself. No surprise, this flow allows to interface via industry standards (Verilog, SDF annotation, gds, etc.) with the SoC integration flow from the EDA vendor.

    As far as I am concerned, I really think that the semiconductor industry will adopt eFPGA when adding flexibility to a SoC is needed. The multiple benefits in term of solution cost and power consumption should be the drivers, and Menta is well positioned to get a good share of this new IP market, thanks to the key differentiators offered by the architecture.

    You can find the white paper here:

    From Eric Esteve from IPnest