SiliconBlue ultra-low-power FPGAs

Some time ago, I wrote, “The Actel/Microsemi parts have one additional advantage: They have the best static power consumption in the industry.”  I was wrong.

Last month, a post on the geda-user mailing list alerted me to SiliconBlue Technologies and their line of ultra-low-power FPGAs. These FPGAs are RAM-based, like those of the big two FPGA manufacturers, Xlinix and Altera. Unlike the chips from the big guys, though, SiliconBlue’s parts are not power hogs. In fact, they are fully static and go down to microamps with a static clock.  With the Microsemi (Actel) FPGAs, one has to freeze the FPGA with the “Flash Freeze” feature to get down to that level, but it appears that the SiliconBlue units simply clock right down there.  If true, that would give them quite an edge in power-conscious design.

Making a direct comparison between the Actel/Microsemi Igloo line, their lowest-powered, and the SiliconBlue parts has to be done on a case-by-case basis. The clock rates, and in particular, how often the clocks can be stopped, matter a lot. There is also the external configuration EEPROM for the Silicon Blue parts, which will take power in simple designs, but can be powered down or perhaps eliminated in more sophisticated uses.

In any event, I will stick with the Microsemi ProASIC3 and Igloo line for now. I like the convenience of a flash-based architecture. The next time I’m designing for low power, though,  it will be time to give SiliconBlue a good look.

Updated 5/12/11: The date of the geda-user post was corrected.

Texas Instruments buys National Semiconductor

Surprise news this morning: Texas Instruments is buying National Semiconductor for $6.5 billion.  National is strong in power and analog chips. Many of the jellybean op amps and voltage regulators we have all used came from National, whether directly or via copies sold by other companies.  TI is strong in just about everything: general analog, specialty and high-performance analog, digital signal processing, logic, microcontrollers, and so on. Continue reading Texas Instruments buys National Semiconductor

Freescale’s SDR on a Chip

Freescale has introduced a very nifty part, the MC13260 SoC Radio, where SoC is “System on a Chip”.  Picture for a moment a complete transceiver on a chip, including an 100 MHz ARM processor, a programmable DSP modem, a frequency synthesizer, a transceiver, a USB interface, an audio CODEC (for the microphone and speaker), and miscellaneous support components, all on one chip.

The thing operates at RF frequencies from 60 to 960 MHz. It’s designed primarily for analog FM and certain digital modes, but with an external modulator it can support linear modes, presumably including SSB.  Output is only 5 dBm, so the advertised “few external components” had better include an amplifier!

Though the chip is aimed at the military and commercial markets, hypothetically it could make the fine foundation for a fine amateur transceiver for any or all of the 2m, 1.25m, 70cm, or 33cm bands. Imagine an all-mode 2m, software defined radio HT with built-in data capabilities, for example. Integrated parts like this usually can’t achieve the performance of a discrete design, but the reduced part count would be worth the tradeoff.

What do you think? Would a transceiver based on a part like this be within the reach of a few dedicated homebrewers?

Freescale MC13260 data / article in Electronic Design