Electronic Design
Configurable Platform Blends FPGA With Atom

Configurable Platform Blends FPGA With Atom

Intel's E600C is the long awaited Atom/FPGA blend that combines the E600 system-on-a-chip with Altera's midrange, 40nm Arria II FPGA. The Intel E600C (Fig. 1) contains all the E600 components including Intel Hi-Def Audio support and an integrated Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA). Two of the E600C's PCI Express SERDES are used to communicate with the FPGA while two are reserved for off-chip interfacing. One could be used with the range of third party hub controllers or Intel's own EG20T Platform Controller Hub.

The E600's use of PCI Express made it an ideal platform to control an FPGA given the general availability of FPGAs with hard PCI Express SERDES. The differences with the E600C are two fold. First there is the integration into a single package. The second it is the use of a pair of x1 PCI Express links. Doubling the bandwidth between the FPGA and the Atom will be significant for many applications.

The Atom and FPGA chips are combined into a single 37.5mm by 37.5mm BGA package (Fig. 2) with a 0.8mm ball pitch. The pins provide access to the Arria's 350 I/O and 3.25 GHz SERDES ports.

The TDP for the Atom processor is that same as a regular E600. This ranges from 2.7W to 3.6W. The TDP for the combined platform ranges from 4W to 6W depending upon the platform. The Atom supports a range of power management states but the FPGA does not.

Processor Clock Graphics TDP Temp Range Price (1K units)
E665C 1.3GHz 400MHz 3.6W Commercial: 0° to 70°C $97
E665CT 1.3GHz 400MHz 3.6W Industrial: -40° to 85°C $106
E645C 1.0GHz 320MHz 3.6W Commercial: 0° to 70°C $72
E645CT 1.0GHz 320MHz 3.6W Industrial: -40° to 85°C $79
E625C 0.6GHz 320MHz 2.7W Commercial: 0° to 70°C $61
E625CT 0.6GHz 320MHz 2.7W Industrial: -40° to 85°C $65

Support will come from Intel but the FPGA tools are from Altera. This includes the Quartus II development environment. The FPGA fabric supports all the IP that a conventional Altera FPGA will handle. This includes soft core processors like Altera's NIOS II, the Cortex-M1 and the Freescale V1 ColdFire. The Altera NIOS II development tools are available for NIOS II software development. A range of development tools are available for the Arm Cortex-M1 and Freescale ColdFire. Existing x86 development tools work with the Atom.

The E600C represents a change of direction for Intel and Altera. The combination is a much different partnership than the latest Intel/Achronix pairing for high performance, 21nm FPGAs (see Speedy 22nm FPGA Packs PicoPIPEs). The latter is a standalone FPGA utilizing Intel technology. The former has Intel integrating Altera's hardware onto an Intel platform.

Overall, the match between the Atom and the Arria II is ideal. The Arria II does not overwhelm the Atom like a Stratix platform might and the PCI Express support in the Arria matches the Atom's capabilities. Having a standard FPGA platform attached to the Atom is likely to improve the adoption of this type of configuration versus an off-chip FPGA. This approach simplifies much of the support of the FPGA and provides a standard interface from the Atom.

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