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To be, or not to be – an FPGA?

A few years ago, we shined light on the fact that FPGAs were stealthily appearing in places where they were not announced.  Namely, both Altera and Lattice semiconductor sell devices that are ostensibly CPLDs, but whose inner workings are most certainly FPGA.  It turns out that the latest process geometries are more friendly to the FPGA architecture than to the classic CPLD architecture, and for people accustomed to using CPLDs, there is really no reason they need to know that an FPGA is hiding under the cap.  

More recently, Xilinx introduced their Zynq family of embedded processors.  Check out the marketing materials – it’s a processing subsystem with … extensibility.  The FPGA word is conspicuously absent.  Is there FPGA fabric in there?  You betcha!  Are they marketing it as an FPGA? Nope.  Don’t want to scare away the embedded folks.

Finally, there is the case of QuickLogic.  A few years ago, they started pretending to NOT be an FPGA company.  They coined the term “CSSP” for – “customer specific standard product” and they started doing the design work for their customers rather than distributing and supporting an FPGA tool chain.  Were those still FPGAs inside there?  Yep.  They were.  

However, now the case of QuickLogic has gotten even MORE interesting.  In their latest family – ArcticLink III VX – there is one important difference from ArcticLink II VX that’s completely hidden from view, and not found in any of the marketing materials.  ArcticLink III VX is – NOT an FPGA.  The FPGA fabric disappeared quietly in the night between versions of the product.  With the new smaller geometry process, it turns out that QuickLogic was able to make hard versions of everything their customers had been wanting more easily than adding antifuse FPGA fabric to the device.  As a result – the new product is probably more correctly an ASSP, but we won’t tell.  

Oh, wait – we just did.

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