The Brutal Truth of Low Power FPGAs

By Umar Mughal, SVP of Product at Rapid Silicon 

In the 23+ years and 15 roles, I’ve always had a direct connection to customers. It’s been the best part of my career. Why? They tell you the brutal truth and end up being partners in solving real problems.

In the last year, there’s been one consistent truth from these customers “we need a truly low power, low-cost FPGA with the right feature set and there are no good options.” Every time I hear this, I chuckle. I’ve seen this day coming for many years.

The FPGA duopoly used to take great pains to compete in this space to deliver the lowest power FPGA. Over the last 10 years the big two have been understandably focused on keeping up with massive demand in Data Centers and High-Performance Computing. The product and execution strategy had to shift to create efficiency in engineering with the promise of reuse across their portfolio. This promise has fallen short in the mid-range and low-end space, missing the mark on delivering that Goldilocks of FPGAs optimized for applications that need low power, low cost with just enough performance.

What has been forgotten are three key elements to creating a truly low power product:

  • Process Node – The latest is not the greatest. More stable process nodes 1-2 nodes lagging from the latest have been optimized for the lowest power without sacrificing too much performance.
  • Core Architecture – Power and cost are more important than performance, hence reusing a high performance, heavily pipelined FPGA core just does not work. Faster switching consumes more power, so keep it simple.
  • IO Blocks – IO power is a major contributor to total power. IOs need to be designed for low power and every mWatt savings on an IO counts. With 400-500+ IO, the savings add up quickly.

The best and most successful low power FPGAs over the past 2 decades were designed with these three elements in mind. At Rapid Silicon, we’re going back to these fundamentals, and building the best low power FPGAs from the ground up. To our customers, we hear you; we’re coming.