Embedding a CPU via IP cores has long been popular in the world of FPGAs and ASICs.  In these times of the System-on-Chip (SoC), most large designs require a microprocessor to aid in speeding up development cycles, easing complexity, and improving time to market.  But what about CPUs with embedded FPGAs?

NetworkWorld is reporting that Intel will be embedding an Altera FPGA into the Atom E600 microprocessor.  The Atom is an Intel processor aimed at embedding computing platforms and portable devices like netbooks.  How are Intel going about doing this?  According to NetworkWorld,

In the E600C series, Intel attached the Altera FPGA to the E600 via a standard PCI Express connection with two lanes. Luse declined to comment on if or when Intel might manufacture the Atom and FPGA on a single die.

This has potentially interesting applications.  Instead of designing a separate PCIe card, engineers can now implement their design inside the CPU, reducing the need for other areas of design work, such as power circuitry, PCIe interface and circuit board layout. Designs with a PCIe interface can also be reused between regular FPGAs on a circuit board and embedded FPGAs.  While I don’t see such embedded FPGAs replacing FPGAs as they are today, I do see the potential for creating domain or application specific co-processors in the embedded FPGAs, for example, encryption engines.

I am curious about whether or not there will be an external I/O interface that connects directly to the FPGA.  I also wonder what type of clock speeds we can expect for the embedded FPGAs?


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