A new approach to making silicon chips that are programmable could help drive faster product development cycles and improve the performance of a wide range of devices, according to a small Silicon Valley startup. Flex Logix on Monday unveiled EFLX, a field programmable gate array (FPGA) core that essentially enables silicon chips to be upgraded without having to be replaced.
"We give people a way to change their silicon without changing their silicon," said Geoff Tate, the company's CEO and co-founder. By improving upon current technology, he said, Flex Logix's idea can help "bring what's great about FPGAs to a broader spectrum of customers and users."
Incorporated in March 2014, Flex Logix is backed by Series A startup funding from Lux Capital. It's led by Tate, a veteran of AMD who went on to lead Rambus, a company that developed and licenses dynamic RAM technology.
Compact Design and Power Efficiency
Flex Logix's EFLX technology packs more switchable connections into a smaller amount of real estate than traditional FPGAs. This not only reduces manufacturing costs and power consumption but makes it easier to integrate EFLX cores into a range of devices, according to the company.
A paper describing the concept for EFLX recently won an award at the International Solid State Circuits Conference. It was written by Flex Logix co-founders Cheng C. Wang, Fang-Li Yuan and Dejan Markovic, who is a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA.
Wang first came up with the hierarchical network design for EFLX, which reduces the typical FPGA size by shortening the length of communication links between logic blocks. The more compact and power-efficient design could bring considerable benefits to companies in many fields, including communications companies, data center operators, aerospace firms, automakers and others, according to Flex Logix.
'A Really Big Idea'
"Adaptable silicon is a really big idea," said Peter Heber, co-founder and Managing Partner of Lux Capital. "If we're successful, billions of new integrated chips will be based on Flex Logix's innovative EFLX technology."
Flex Logix doesn't plan to manufacture EFLX cores itself, but is offering the technology to users through licensing contracts. The company said its first 2,500-LUT (look up table) core design would add less than 15 cents to the total manufacturing cost of a device.
That could prove enticing to companies that have seen steadily rising costs as silicon chip designs have become increasingly complex. By making it easier to program chips after they have been manufactured, EFLX could help users "upgrade I/O protocols, change encryption algorithms to improve security, enable elements of software-defined radio or accelerate data center algorithms like search," according to Flex Logix.
Last year, for example, Microsoft said it was able to improve the performance of its Bing search engine by as much as 95 percent through its use of FGPAs.