In an article published in EETimes today titled “Programmable Logic Holds the Key to Addressing Device Obsolescence,” Xilinx’s Giles Peckham argues that the use of programmable devices—such as the Zynq SoCs, Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoCs, and FPGAs offered by Xilinx—can help prevent product obsolescence in long-lived products designed for industrial, scientific, and military applications. And that assertion is certainly true. But in this blog, I want to highlight the response by a reader using the handle MWagner_MA who wrote:
“Given the pace of change in FPGA's, I don't know if an FPGA will be a panacea for chip obsolescence issues. However, when changes in system design occur for hooking up new peripherals to a design off board, FPGA's can extend the life of a product 5+ years assuming you can get board-compatible FPGA's. Comm channels are what come to mind. If you use the same electrical interface but have an updated protocol, programmable logic can be a solution. Another solution is that when devices on SPI or I2C busses go obsolete, FPGA code can get updated to accomodate, even changing protocol if necessary assuming the right pins are connected at the other chip (like an A/D).”
MWagner_MA’s response is nuanced and tempered with obvious design experience. However, I will need to differ with the comment that the pace of change in FPGAs means something significant within the context of product obsolescence. Certainly FPGAs go obsolete, but it takes a long, long time.
Case in point:
I received an email just today from Xilinx about this very topic. (Feel free to insert amusement here about Xilinx’s corporate blogger being on the company’s promotional email list.) The email is about Xilinx’s Spartan-6 FPGAs, which were first announced in 2009. That’s eight or nine years ago. Today’s email states that Xilinx plans to ship Spartan-6 devices “until at least 2027.” That’s another nine or ten years into the future for a resulting product-line lifespan of nearly two decades and that’s not all that unusual for Xilinx parts. In other words, Xilinx FPGAs are in another universe entirely when compared to the rapid pace of obsolescence for semiconductor devices like PC and server processors. That’s something to keep in mind when you’re designing products destined for a long life in the field.
If you want to see the full long-life story for the Spartan-6 FPGA family, click here.