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Programming the future
Media Interview
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2021-08-21
FPGAs — The Logical Solution to the Microcontroller Shortage FPGAs — The Logical Solution to the Microcontroller ShortageBy Scott Casper, GOWIN Semiconductor Corporation Today’s marketplace is getting heavily disrupted by the current semiconductor chip shortage that has hampered our manufacturing production lines. This is evident by the limited supply of products available. For example, automobile production has decreased from 2020 to 2021 as well as consumer products like smartphones. New product launches are also delayed as manufacturers figure out new supply chains and vendors to get them over these supply hurdles. The current view is that the semiconductor shortage will extend well into 2022 and maybe even longer. One of the lack of devices causing major impacts to the supply chain, and thus manufacturing, is the microcontroller. A microcontroller is a compact integrated circuit designed to execute operations, similar to a microprocessor, and typically found in embedded systems. You can imagine these devices are sprinkled all over your automobile, from the power engine to the infotainment (radio) controls, aiding in the safety, control, and entertainment portions of the automobile. Without these microcontrollers, automobile production and supply diminish. Therefore, what alternatives do engineers and supply chain managers have? Since microcontrollers are essentially executing logic commands to perform an operation, an alternative to microcontrollers is the Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). An FPGA is an integrated circuit made up of a matrix of configurable logic blocks. Therefore, by configuring the FPGA, you can essentially perform the same operations as a microcontroller. There are three techniques to look at when considering FPGAs to replace a microcontroller: - An FPGA can replace a microcontroller’s simple operation by programming combinatorial logic or a state machine in the configurable logic blocks. - An FPGA can be programmed with a “softcore” microcontroller in the configurable logic blocks to run the same software that is being run on the current microcontrollers. In otherwords, no change to the software is necessary. - An FPGA can be purchased with a “hardcore” microcontroller that is permanently fixed in the device silicon. This can run the same software that is being run on the current microcontroller, only faster than a softcore solution. There are inherent advantages to using an FPGA over a microcontroller. For an embedded design engineer, these advantages can help achieve cost and performance targets. The first is the flexibility of programmable IO that an FPGA can offer. While a microcontroller has fixed and limited IO, an FPGA can be programmed for various IO interface standards (I2C, I2S, RGB, MIPI, etc) thereby acting as a bridge, an IO expander, or a signal aggregator. Next, a microcontroller executes its operations by software in a serial function. The speed of the operation is controlled by the length of the code and system clock. On the other hand, operations in an FPGA are in the silicon configurable logic blocks which are faster to execute than lines of codes. And you can also create separate circuits in the configurable logic blocks to run operations in parallel. A microcontroller can’t do this parallelism. Lastly, a microcontroller burns active power in its wait states; it always needs to run code while waiting for an interrupt. An FPGA, on the other hand, burns only leakage power in its always-on wait state which makes it a much better solution for low power applications than a microcontroller. GOWIN Semiconductor offers solutions to address the three microcontroller replacement techniques listed above. GOWIN’s FPGAs come in a variety of configurable logic block sizes and flexible input/output configurations. GOWIN offers many microcontroller softcores including the Cortex M series and RISC-V. Lastly, GOWIN offers FPGAs with hardcore microcontrollers in silicon to achieve the best performance value possible. Understanding that there are alternatives to overcome the microcontroller shortages can be beneficial to manufacturing, supply chain managers, and to the marketplace as a whole. And design engineers will recognize that: - Flexible interfaces, bridging, io expanision, and signal aggregation - Acceleration/Parallel processing - Always-on low power operations can be an advantage to any embedded system looking to achieve performance and cost targets. GOWIN Semiconductor is here to help those in need of moving their manufacturing and product launches forward with FPGA products less than $1. Please visit us at www.gowinsemi.com for more information about our small size, low power, and low cost products and solutions.  
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2021-10-12
USB Programming ICs vs GWU2X and GWU2U USB Programming ICs vs GWU2X and GWU2U By Grant Jennings, Sr. Director of International Marketing, GOWIN Semiconductor Corp.   The GOWIN GWU2X and GWU2U peripheral bridging ICs provide conversation from USB to JTAG, SPI, I2C, UART and GPIOs.  This conversion is often required when programming and communicating with other IC’s on development and production circuit boards.  Most host computers include a USB port, but do not have the chip to chip peripherals typically used for programming.               There are several types of USB to peripheral bridging devices IC.  So, what makes the GOWIN GWU2U and GWU2X different?  The first notable difference is in the architecture.  Most existing USB to peripheral bridges use a combination of a CPU, hardened IPs and also emulated interfaces through GPIOs and a software API.  The GWU2X and GWU2U instead uses a programmable gate architecture with a direct conversion path from USB to the interface.  The interface is directly driven by the hardware.  This provides lower latency and less interoperability issues since the data path does not have to flow through both hardware and software paths.  In some cases it also provides superior reliability on the peripheral side for alternatives that rely on bit-bashing GPIO to emulate the interface.                Using a dedicated hardware bridging solution provides many benefits. First, if you’ve used CPU based bridging devices in the past you’ve probably experienced issues with drivers.  This is often related to use of non-generic, proprietary USB drivers that are required to use the bridging device.  The GOWIN GWU2 series by comparison use LibUSB, WinUSB and VCP (Virtual COM Port) drivers, which are native to most computer operating systems.  When using proprietary drivers, users are relying on the chip manufacturer to provide fully tested drivers and correlating CPU IC firmware to ensure reliable behavior across a vast range of hardware platforms. The second benefit of a dedicated hardware implementation is cost. Using a processor and memory to bridge between USB and the peripheral interface is not only more complex, but consumes additional chip area and costs more as a result. The third benefit is product life cycle.  GOWIN is a programmable semiconductor IC company and aligns it’s products to various semiconductor fabrication process nodes.  Most of the USB to peripheral interface bridges to date are on much older process nodes, resulting in a larger die size and increased per-device cost.  To move these devices to a new process node would involve considerable engineering efforts, because the chip design needs to be reverified, interface IPs would need to be relicensed for the new process node and firmware running on the CPU would need to be reverified.  GOWIN’s GWU2X and GWU2U architecture does not have these burdens.  It is a pure digital logic design and the interfaces have been developed and validated by GOWIN themselves.  This means the design is easily portable through various generations and process nodes, CPU firmware does not need to be reverified, interfaces do not need to be redesigned and IP licenses do not need to be renegotiated. Devices with fixed ASIC IP often have issues supporting variances and nuances related to the interpretation peripheral specification it’s attempting to support.  Sometimes these issues can be resolved by placing capacitors on certain interface IO to delay the signaling appropriately.  In other cases, the interface bridge simply cannot support communication with the desired IC.  Both of these cause major impacts to engineering development.  The GOWIN GWU2X and GWU2U have programmable RTL based interface firmware is continually being updated to compensate for various interface nuances over time rather than a fixed interface IP that would require a chip redesigned in order to fix the issue. Another notable difference relates to supported IO voltage range and capability.  Since many of the peripheral bridges on the market today are on older process nodes it’s common that they only support limited voltage range.  Also, many times the IO will be fixed in a particular direction by the firmware.  This causes product developers to often add voltage translators or IO gating capabilities if other IO voltage ranges or programming paths are required.  The GWU2X can drive a wider voltage range and supports placing the IO in a high impedance state when not in use. Total BOM cost is another concern.  Some interface bridging IC’s require two voltages, external rom and various passives.  The GWU2X and GWU2U can be powered by a single supply, does not need external memory, can operate on a low cost crystal oscillator, and only need decoupling capacitors for passives.  This along with the supported IO voltage capabilities can lower the BOM requirements over other bridge ICs.  Additionally, The GWU2U can be combined with other GOWIN devices, FPGAs, and IPs such as USB Type-C PD (Power Delivery) to enhance the traditional interface bridge with additional capabilities In conclusion, GOWIN’s GWU2X and GWU2U USB to peripheral interface bridge ICs provide several benefits overcoming difficulty of development, cost, and product lifetime burdens of the legacy ICs in the market before it. To learn more about GOWIN’s GWU2X and GWU2U Bridging IC’s, please visit us the ASSP device product pages here - https://www.gowinsemi.com/en/product/detail/25/