Wednesday, February 03, 2010

3D-FPGA Reinvented

The concept of 3D chip has been coming and going. I have not seen many commercial chip that is 3D. But that may be the norms in future, as we find it difficult to integrate more transistors into a given area.

If the area is small, stack it up. That's what was done in New York in the mid nineties. In future, at least in a distant future, that's what they would do in Atlanta and Phoenix. What applies to geography, applies to chip design - I find them both extremely similar.

This time, the famous and well respected innovator Zvi Or-Bach has reinvented 3D FPGA. FPGA has a big advantage of ASIC in terms of rapid development cycle and less initial investment. But in practice, FPGA is much slower and are not dense enough. FPGA architecture and the synthesis technology has undergone several changes taking it closer and closer to ASIC in terms of performance. 3D FPGA may be yet another step, as Or-Bach claims.

Nu-PGA tries to increase the interconnect density of the FPGA by taking the antifuse to a separate layer from the configurable logic blocks. What does the increasing interconnect density mean? A lot, actually. With a rich interconnect availability, the bounding box of the chip is reduced a lot. So the placement and routing algorithm need not have to bother much about where to lay the track, number of tracks in each direction and what the channel width is. Also it increases the speed of placement and routing process. All these clearly mean getting closer to ASIC.

But the 3D FPGA described above is more like a building with two levels. Not so fancy, but we have never done anything more than one-level building earlier. I would however expect the building to go up fast, like putting CLBs on top of each other in different layers, or having a layer of CLB and a layer of IO blocks. I seriously think there is a good scope for growing tall as there is more space available there. Let's see how the market reacts to these innovative ideas and where it takes us to.

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