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Efinix Improves FPGAs

December 19, 2017

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

You’d think a market dominated for decades by two entrenched leaders would discourage newcomers, but programmable logic continues to intrigue inventors—and investors. The latest attempt to breach the FPGA market ruled by Xilinx and Intel is coming from Efinix (pronounced F-N-X), a Silicon Valley startup that recently announced its first samples. The company has patented a new field-programmable logic cell that’s up to 4x denser than those in conventional FPGAs, in turn reducing power consumption and cost.

Founded in 2012, Efinix has raised $16 million from several investors—including Xilinx, a potential acquirer. Other investors include Samsung and several Chinese investment funds. In early October, the startup received the first samples from Chinese foundry SMIC, which fabricated the chips in its 40nm low-leakage process. Efinix says the initial chips are functional and will begin general sampling next quarter. Volume production could start as early as 3Q18 if a customer places a large order.

The new FPGA architecture is named Quantum (although it doesn’t employ quantum computing). Efinix has invented a new cell that combines programmable logic with routing channels and hubs. Conventional FPGAs have numerous programmable logic blocks connected to a switched routing fabric. The company's Exchangeable Logic and Routing (XLR) cell can either perform the usual logic operations or work as a switch for the underlying fabric. Efinix says combining both functions in a single cell reduces the fabric’s area by 2–4x and cuts power in half.

Although Efinix won’t announce details until early next year, the first-generation products will have 4,000 to 150,000 XLR cells plus DSP blocks, on-chip memory, and low-speed serdes. An ambitious product roadmap moves future products to a smaller IC process each year with corresponding increases in gate capacity and features.

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