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ArcticLink

Connectivity Without the Watts

You’re designing a new handheld device. You’ve got your processor picked, your software platform selected, your debugger dialed-in, and your battery bolted into place. Marketing has signed off on the baddest list of requirements ever – convergence has taken a turn for the terrible, and your device has to connect to ubiquitous wireless standards, seven kinds of mass storage, USB2.0, SDIO, and even PCI (Don’t ask why you’d need all of those – this is a fictional project, OK? Suspend disbelief for a moment.) The point is, you need a way to hook all that stuff into your system without burning your battery reserves just keeping everything connected.

QuickLogic’s new ArcticLink was created just for you. ArcticLink is a new device that acts as super-low-power digital duct tape, stitching together the various components of your system and providing a level of flexibility through its programmable fabric that will let marketing change its mind repeatedly without bombing your BOM too badly. The playing field in the handheld market changes almost daily, and differentiating your product is a balancing act weighing the benefits of differentiating features against the evils of increased time-to-market, BOM cost, power consumption and form factor.

ArcticLink is designed to sit in your embedded system between the application processor and a host of possible external standards like SDIO, SD, MMC, CE-ATA, PCI, IDE, NAND-flash, and USB2.0. Calling on the company’s programmable logic heritage and technology experience, a number of these standards are supported through a versatile programmable fabric, and a few are addressed via hard-wired built-in blocks.

On the hard-wired side of ArcticLink, the device has a USB controller and an integrated physical layer (PHY). The use of the integrated PHY is optional, as the USB port can be operated in either PHY or UTMI+ Low Pin Interface (ULPI) with an external PHY. The USB port supports both USB 2.0 and USB 1.1, including “high speed”, “full speed”, and “low speed” operation. It can act as the USB host or as an end-device or in dual role on-the-go (OTG) mode. OTG allows two USB devices to talk to each other without requiring a dedicated host. OTG is not a true peer-to-peer mode – more interestingly, it allows either device to act as host or peripheral, and for devices to even exchange roles if needed. ArcticLink’s USB interface can support operation at up to 480Mbps.

The next stop on our ArcticLink tour is the high-speed SDIO/SD/MMC/CE-ATA controller. With SDIO 2.0, ArcticLink can handle connections to capabilities like WiFi and Ditigal Mobile TV. There are also a number of storage standards supported, like SD, MMC, and CE-ATA, that facilitate connections to SD cards, MegaSIM, hard-disk drives, MMC cards, and managed NAND Flash – all working with peripheral interface speeds up to 52MHz.

ArcticLink also has a programmable processor interface that can be configured to support Analog Device, Freescale, Marvell, Renesas, Samsung, TI, and potentially many other processors. One of the attractive features of ArcticLink is that every interface is programmable – allowing you to juggle and react to changing requirements without jumping ship and changing chips. An internal split-bus architecture allows the application processor to create concurrent data transfers between host controllers without subsequent intervention, freeing the host processor from cycle-stealing I/O chores.

ArcticLink also has a generous helping of general-purpose programmable fabric with access to I/O connections, allowing many other capabilities to be programmed into the device. Depending on your application, the programmable fabric could implement additional storage or networking connections with drop-in pre-configured blocks, Video support functions, or custom capabilities like DRM, security, serialization, or GPIO.

QuickLogic claims that ArcticLink can replace up to five discrete components in your portable device, such as USB host/device, USB PHY, HDD controller, high-speed controller for Wi-Fi or digital mobile TV, and processor interface glue-logic. The programmable fabric uses QuickLogic’s metal-to-metal Vialink technology, which is basically a one-time programmable antifuse. Because of this non-volatile programmability, the devices do not require external configuration circuitry like a typical FPGA, and they have very good power consumption and switching speed characteristics.

The hard-wired logic creates an extremely low-power programmable fabric, as active transistors are not used for routing interconnect. The non-volatile nature of the logic fabric also makes it very easy to provide a sleep mode (called Very-Low-Power or “VLP” mode by QuickLogic) that consumes almost no power. For many applications, the device can lie dormant, consuming almost no power, until pressed into service to create an active connection to a peripheral. Dynamic power consumption is also very good with this technology, and the DMA engine built into the ArcticLink device helps offload the application processor – saving even more power.

ArcticLink is designed specifically for battery-powered portable devices, so it is available in very small BGA packages such as an 8X8mm CTBGA with 0.65mm pitch and 121 balls, or a 12X12mm TFBGA package with 0.8mm pitch and 196 balls. It is also available in “known good die” form for multi-die and system-in-package (SIP) use. Since handheld devices are often also high-volume products, and BOM cost becomes a critical consideration, QuickLogic kept the price at an easy “under $4”

Although the heart of ArcticLink might reasonably be classified as “FPGA,” the design process will typically be much simpler. The company provides a turnkey development platform with a daughtercard that plugs into Sophia Systems’s Marvell PXA3xx Sandgate III reference platform. This supports USB 2.0 OTG/Host/Device, ULPI for USB development. It also supports SD memory, SDIO (for WiFi and Digital Mobile TV), CE-ATA (X4 and X8), NAND Flash, and Bluetooth 2.0.

A wide range of IP is available for the product, implementing a variety of connectivity standards and other capabilities, and reference designs are available in a number of application areas for near-turn-key development. QuickLogic has made a strong business the past few years taking FPGA-like technology and productizing it to the next level – creating well-targeted products like ArcticLink that solve specific problems with a minimum of designer workload involved in their use and deployment. They have also taken great advantage of the specific characteristics of antifuse technology by aiming their devices at markets that can benefit from antifuse’s non-volatile, high-speed, low-power traits.

ArcticLink is scheduled to sample during Q2 2007 and to be in full volume production by Q3 2007. The “less than $4” pricing is projected for high volume orders in 2008.

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