Diamond Systems is taking an approach to standard boards that has been common on high-end systems such as VME and CompactPCI. This approach uses an FPGA to deliver a level of customization that lets vendors deliver different functionality with the same piece of hardware.
In this case, the vendor would configure the FPGA when the customer orders the board. Alternatively, the vendor may provide an initialization file to the customer, but the customer never programs the FPGA with its own code. The result is less inventory for the vendor and more flexibility for the customer without a major change to the vendor's or customer's sales and design process.
Diamond's first foray into this realm is the PC/104-based GPIOMM (see the figure). It provides counter/timer support as well as parallel digital I/O. Paul Rosenfield, Diamond's vice president of marketing, noted that the GPIO-MM FPGA-based board is more functional and costs less than older boards that only have some of the GPIOMM's features. The current design uses a small, inexpensive FPGA with headroom for additional functionality, so expect to see this board showing up with other configurations.
Two factors are driving this product design approach. First is the availability of low-cost FPGAs. Second, customers want the functionality but don't want the complexity of FPGA design tools. Similar approaches include National Instruments' Compact RIO, where NI's LabView software hides the reconfiguration support (see "Reconfigurable Backplane Eases Process-Control Design" at www.electronicdesign.com, ED Online 8942).
FPGA-based solutions open up a wide range of options, including vendor-confiurable analog support using either analogequipped FPGAs or external analog support. Designers also may want to look at addressing Restrictions on Hazardous Substances issues by replacing discontinued parts using FPGAs.