Altera sticks with 60nm for latest FPGAs

Altera has stuck with a 60nm-class process for its latest generation of low-cost Cyclone field-programmable gate arrays rather than move to a denser process as its main competitor Xilinx has done.

The previous generation of Cyclone 3 parts (pictured) are made on a 65nm process. Although the company claimed that the 60nm process is different to that used for Cyclone 3 and provides a moderate shrink, which should lower manufacturing cost, Xilinx has opted for a more aggressive shrink with the 45nm process used to make its Spartan-6 devices.

Theresa Vu, low-cost product marketing specialist for Altera, said 60nm has distinct advantages today over a move to a 45nm or 40nm process because of the higher defect densities currently seen on the denser technologies. “Because we will be shipping parts in the next quarter, 60nm will be cheaper. In the low-cost applications, the design times are much shorter than with high-end devices. That is why we want to offer a family where we can offer production devices now.”

The company started shipping high-end FPGAs earlier in the year based on TSMC’s 40nm. Yield issues with the process saw TSMC assign additional engineers to the process over the summer to try to reduce defect densities, although Altera claimed it has been able to ship Stratix-4 parts on 40nm to customers in production quantities.

Bob Blake, product marketing manager for Altera Europe, said the company had shipped approximately $30m in chips made using the TSMC 40nm process.

Vu claimed the target process for the Cyclone 4 since plans for the family were drawn had always been 60nm.

Blake added: “It has been in excess of a year that this family has been planned.”

Xilinx said it started shipping samples of both high Virtex-6 on 40nm, as well as Spartan-6 parts using a 45nm process available at Samsung fabs, in Spring. In the latest conference call with analysts, Xilinx CEO Moshe Gavrielov claimed the company would move to production volumes by the end of the year.

To cut power consumption, Altera has lowered the voltage from 1.2V to 1.0V for parts that do not support 3Gb/s serial transceivers. Vu said this provides a power reduction of 25 per cent.

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