Development kits that allow system developers to evaluate an FPGA or a processor without having to design a complete system are becoming more important as the chips themselves become more complex. Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are integrated circuits consisting of a matrix of configurable logic blocks connected via programmable interconnects. Today’s FPGAs are full-blown systems on chips that include not just programmable logic and memory, but also digital signal processors, analog-to-digital converters, digital-to-analog converters and signal-conditioning circuits
Such complexity poses power management challenges. The current drawn by FPGAs and processors continues to rise as more logic elements are squeezed onto the chip; load currents of 100A, or greater, are becoming common. Meanwhile, the chip’s operating (“core”) voltages are dropping below 0.9V and require tight regulation. Most FPGAs specify both core voltage to drive the logic and separate IO voltage rails. Often FPGAs require additional rails to power internal clocks, phase-lock loops or transceivers. Getting power management right is essential to optimal performance.
The good news is that semiconductor makers have stepped up to the challenge of providing multiple regulated voltage rails with packaged solutions: Power modules that operate as self-contained power management systems — with integrated DC/DC conversion, power transistors, input and output capacitors, compensation components and inductors encapsulated in surface mount BGA or LGA packages — are easier to use than discrete solutions. PC-based power planning tools can configure these modules to optimize a system’s “power tree.”
A well thought-out power management design can reduce PCB size, weight and complexity, as well as lower power consumption and cooling costs.
But, it is still a daunting prospect.
Enter the development kit: The best news for systems designers is that board level power management solutions, assembled and verified either by the FPGA manufacturers or by third parties, are proliferating. Using off-the-shelf solutions as evaluation prototypes is almost always the quickest time to market.