Good news for the FPGA masses who want access to the ARM ecosystem of operating systems, tools, IP, and applications — last week Xilinx and ARM announced their collaboration to enable ARM processors and interconnect on Xilinx FPGAs.  This new dimension of the Xilinx Targeted Design Platform is a dramatic shift by Xilinx, away from their traditional IBM Power PC Architecture.

Meanwhile, over on Innovation Drive, Altera is licensing the MIPS architecture, and the market awaits more information.

Having an on-FPGA ARM is not a new idea. Early this decade Altera introduced their ARM-based hard core then changed strategy toward their NIOS II soft processor. And of course Actel, Altera and Xilinx have been supporting ARM-based soft cores for some time.

The announcement reveals that Xilinx is adopting “performance-optimized ARM cell libraries and embedded memories,”  conjuring images of ARM-based hard cores. They mention that the roadmap is toward “joint definition of the next-generation ARM® AMBA® interconnect technology… optimized for FPGA architectures.” This hints that the interconnect will be at least partially in the fabric as one would expect in an FPGA embedded system.   How the FPGA architect extends the base system and configures and stitches the fabric remains to be seen. With only vague bits of information released there are many unanswered questions:

  1. What does this mean to Xilinx’s customers using IBM PowerPC processor, MicroBlaze processor with IBM CoreConnect (PLB & OPB)?
  2. What is the tool chain?  Will ARM/AMBA be supported within Xilinx tools (like XPS & EDK) or is the community supported by a third party tool-chain?
  3. Which of the AMBA protocols will be supported by Xilinx — AXI, AHB and/or APB? AXI is the only one explicitly mentioned in the Xilinx Targeted Design Platforms boiler plate.
  4. Will the ARM RISCs be available as hard and/or soft cores within Xilinx FPGAs?  As stated earlier, my guess is that it’s a hard core.

If you have any hard answers or guesses about what’s going on here, please to leave a comment.

Personally, I’m exited to get PDTi engineering hands on an ARM-based Xilinx dev kit so we can help our customers continue to simplify their hardware/software register interface management should they choose ARM-based Xilinx embedded systems.

[UPDATE 2009-11-05]

From the comments there are some other great questions:

  • How will Xilinx’s strategy with ARM differ from that of Altera and what did Altera miss (if anything) in getting customers onto their ARM-based FPGA platform? [Gary Dare]
  • Why did Altera veer towards their own NIOS after going through all that trouble to get ARM-based products? [Gary Dare]
  • With MIPS as their alternative architecture, is Altera looking to horn in on QuickLogic’s market? [Gary Dare]
  • In what market will ARM FPGA platform offerings be the most successful? What market/application is Xilinx going to focus in on first?