Wireless Systems Design

Win The Battle Of FPGA Design

If you've never read any books written by Clive "Max" Maxfield, then you're in for a treat. True to form, his latest book on FPGAs is enjoyable to read. Yet it's also rich in the technical details that any modern designer would need. This tome (542 pages) is first and foremost a technical book that, as Max puts it, "will not mutate into a marketing diatribe" when the reader isn't looking. He covers all of the issues that anyone working with FPGAs or thinking about moving to them would need to know.

This book provides a comprehensive look at FPGA design. Starting with basic terminology and fundamental concepts, it quickly moves into the various methods for programming (configuring) today's most popular FPGAs. Next, the major device and EDA vendors are described. While still in the first quarter, this book explains the subject of FPGA versus ASIC design styles. This topic is of vital importance to many chip designers, who are looking for ways to migrate FPGA prototyping flows into ASIC methodologies for large-scale manufacturing.

The bulk of Max's book focuses on the down-and-dirty design issues. Examples include HDL- and C/C++-based design flows, silicon virtual prototyping, modular and incremental design issues, and intellectual-property concerns. Of course, this list is only a small preview of all of the material that it masterfully captures.

Personally, I was very pleased to see that Max had dedicated an entire chapter to what he calls field-programmable nodal arrays (FPNAs). This category covers all of the modern FPGA devices which—although they are both digital and field programmable—aren't quite FPGAs in the common tradition. Most designers would recognize FPNAs as including adaptive computing machines (ACMs) and algorithmic-logic-unit (ALU) -based devices, such as those from Quicksilver (www.qstech.com) and Elixent (www.elixent.com), respectively. FPNAs are worthy of mention because they continue to play a major role in the development of systems like software-defined radios (SDRs).

Among the other noteworthy chapters is one on open-source design flows. Another chapter covers future developments in FPGAs. In his characteristically dry wit, Max introduces this last chapter with the words, "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

As with most of Max's work, this book's appendix is a treasure trove of background tutorials. Here, he covers important peripheral topics like signal integrity, deep-submicron delay effects, and linear-feedback shift registers. This last topic is a key design concept that's used in most digital chips.

While this book is well suited for young engineers—anyone with less than the prerequisite five years in FPGA or ASIC design—it also offers many topics that will interest the experienced designer. A CD-Rom with a computer-readable version of the book also is provided.

The Design Warrior's Guide to FPGAs: Devices, Tools and Flows by Clive "Max" Maxfield is available from Newnes Publishing (www.elsevier.com) for $49.95. The ISBN is 0750676043.

TAGS: Digital ICs
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