Reinventing the low power, general-purpose FPGAs

24th June 2020
Joe Bush

Lattice Semiconductor Corporation has launched its new Lattice Certus-NX family of general-purpose FPGAs. The FPGAs target a range of applications, from data processing in automated industrial equipment to system management in communications infrastructure. The Certus-NX devices are the second family of FPGAs developed on the Lattice Nexus platform, and with the launch of Certus-NX, Lattice marks the release of the second device family developed under Lattice’s new product development strategy in just six months.

Speaking to Juju Joyce, Product Marketing Manager at Lattice, he explained: “A fact that not everyone is aware of is that Lattice is the number one FPGA supplier in terms of volume. So over the last four years, we’ve shipped over a billion devices worldwide. Lattice has a new leadership team that has re-energised the company. And as part of that, we have retooled our product development approach to enable faster product introduction and development and we are doing that by using a platform-based development approach.

“It’s great achievement for our engineering team especially staying on schedule during these challenging times. With this renewed energy and the platform-based design approach, we have now been able to increase product development and introduction by three times, compared to our recent historic rate. And you will see more new product announcements in the second half of this year.”

Driving this product development is several key industry trends including a need for more processing within lower power and smaller spaces; an increased usage of PCI Express and Gigabit Ethernet as a common interface in many communications and industrial applications; a need for increased safety and security; and an increasing requirement for instant-on response, especially in safety critical applications.

“Certus-NX delivers unique and innovative capabilities that set it apart,” said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at The Linley Group. "Compared to competing FPGAs of similar gate counts, Lattice offers a much smaller package, greater I/O density, and lower power."

“Thanks to innovations at the system, architecture, and circuit level in our Lattice Nexus development platform, we are releasing new products at a faster pace and giving our customers more options to choose from as they evaluate the performance and power needs of their applications,” said Gordon Hands, Director of Product Marketing, Lattice Semiconductor. “Certus-NX has clearly reset expectations for what developers should look for in general-purpose FPGAs by providing a compelling blend of parallel processing performance and flexible I/O support that enables creative new device designs.”

Technology trends like industrial automation and 5G have developers across markets looking to add processing and connectivity to applications that operate at the network Edge. To successfully support these trends, devices require low power processing hardware with support for popular interfaces like PCIe and Gigabit Ethernet. Device developers also need easy-to-use development platforms from a single source that provide the hardware, software, and IP they need to get products to market quickly.

“As an FPGA-centric design house, we’re seeing increasing adoption of serial protocols like PCIe and Ethernet for chip-to-chip connectivity in many end applications, including 5G and IoT systems,” said Sanjeev Kumar, CEO, Logic Fruit Technologies. “The latest generation of FPGAs by Lattice, Certus-NX, supports these standards and provides a high density of I/Os while keeping power consumption and overall device footprint in check. These FPGAs will allow us to rapidly adapt to the challenging and evolving connectivity and performance needs of our customers.”

“We work hard to be a trusted partner to our customers and to help solve their pain points and challenges. And I think that really comes across when you look at what we have accomplished with Certus-NX FPGAs,” concluded Joyce.

Key features of the Lattice Certus-NX FPGA family include: 

  • Up to 3x smaller form factor – Certus-NX FPGAS easily fit into compact designs with minimal impact on overall design footprint. For example, Certus-NX FPGAs can enable a complete PCIe solution with a size of only 36mm2. Even when using the smallest package available in the family, Certus-NX FPGAs deliver up to twice the I/O density per mm2 in comparison to similar competing FPGAs to enable greater design flexibility and robust support for bridging applications.
  • Robust I/O interfacing capability – Certus-NX developers will have access to Lattice’s extensive IP library. Notable IP blocks available on Certus-NX include:
    • 1.5Gbps differential I/O with performance that is up to 70% higher than competing FPGAs.
    • 5Gbps PCIe, 1.5Gbps SGMII, and 1,066Mbps DDR3. Developers can test these IP blocks on Certus-NX development boards for the fast implementation of interfaces commonly used in Certus-NX FPGAs’ target applications.
  • Strong authentication and encryption - To secure the devices’ bitstream against unauthorised access/alteration/copying, Certus-NX FPGAs support AES-256 encryption with best-in-class ECDSA authentication to protect devices throughout their lifecycles. They also support ECC and SEC in hardware.
  • Up to 4x lower power consumption – Certus-NX FPGAS use a programmable back bias to enable user-selectable high performance or low power operating modes, depending on the needs of their application. The devices can provide power consumption up to 4x lower than similar FPGAs.
  • Instant-on performance – The devices also offer ultra-fast device configuration from SPI memory that is 12x faster than similar competing FPGAs, with individual I/Os able to configure in just 3ms, and full-device startup in only 8-14ms depending on device capacity.
  • High reliability – Reliable performance is key for safety-critical industrial and automotive applications where devices must perform as expected to avoid damage/injury. Certus-NX FPGAs offer 100 times better soft-error rate (SER) performance than similar FPGAs. The FPGAs are temperature-rated for use in industrial applications. They also support ECC and SEC in hardware.
  • Ease of use/design – Certus-NX FPGAs support Lattice Radiant software, an easy-to-use, unified FPGA design environment that integrates best-in-class tools and features to help users develop their applications quickly and efficiently.

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