A new release of the company’s Libero SoC Design Suite supports designing with the new PolarFire low-power L series

By Brian Santo, contributing writer

Microsemi Corp. has created lower-power
versions of its PolarFire field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and
simultaneously released an updated version of its design suite that supports the
new products. The Libero system-on-chip (SoC) PolarFire Design Suite v2.2, which gives designers access to the new “L”
series PolarFire FPGAs, includes a smart debug tool.

Microsemi,
recently acquired by Microchip, specializes in smaller, lower-power FPGAs
compared to other FPGA makers, notably Intel’s Altera and Xilinx. Every FPGA in
Microsemi’s new L series is characterized by even lower static power, in some
cases by as much as 30 percent to 35 percent lower than the standard PolarFire
version.

That
can help in a couple of different ways. Lower-power FPGAs can be smaller and
lighter, which is helpful to designers looking to shrink the size of their products,
particularly portable devices. In battery-powered devices, a lower-power
processor enables designers to either reduce the size of the product’s battery
or deliver longer battery life.  

Tim Morin, director of product
marketing for Microsemi’s programmable solutions business unit told Electronic Products that Microsemi
tested one of its major competitor’s FPGAs against an L series PolarFire and
found that the former drew 17 W while the latter drew only 7 W.

“That’s a needle mover,” Morin said.
That could be the difference between having to use a fan for cooling or not,
keeping in mind that fans are notorious for eventually failing, he added.

 

Microsemi
said the L series PolarFire chips are especially suited for low-power portable defense and
professional-grade consumer systems.

Applications might include night
vision goggles or night scopes, Morin said. Both are battery-powered and
neither rely on high-resolution imagery, so an IC with both low static power
and modest processing power – an L series PolarFire for example – is appropriate.

Some mobile military communications
systems have needs that are similar. Not much data is being transmitted, but
what is exchanged needs to be encrypted. The application doesn’t represent
enough volume for anyone to build a standard part, so a low-power FPGA
programmed to do encryption is a very good solution, Morin continued.

The company said the upgraded design
suite enables faster design completion with a 15 percent improvement in runtime
for place and route, together with a 2.5x runtime improvement for programming
file generation.

Morin said one of the “grooviest”
features of the suite was the debug tool, which designers can use to look at
any two flip-flops at any time. “If I have an FPGA with 300,000 flip-flops and my design’s not
working, how do I figure out what’s wrong? Smart Debug allows me to observe any
two flip-flops in a design in real-time at any time,” said Morin. “Effectively
what I’m doing is moving a probe – imagine a two-channel oscilloscope or logic
analyzer – inside the chip, where the data shows up on two pins. The key thing is
I don’t have to re-place and re-route or reprogram the chip. It provides quick
visibility into the problem.”

Microsemi’s Libero SoC PolarFire v2.2
software toolset is now available for download from Microsemi’s website. The company said PolarFire
FPGA MPF300XT devices are available for purchase in full production, while the
MPF300T/TS and MPF200T/TS devices are available in pre-production. There is a
full list of L series on the company’s website; Morin said there’s an L series
version of every PolarFire
FPGA