Five Questions and Five Answers on Altera’s FPGA Based on MIPS Soft Core Processor

Q1: Recently, Altera and MIPS launched the industry’s first FPGA with soft core processors. What is the significance of this product for the processor IP and FPGA industry?

A1: The era of SoC FPGA has arrived. In terms of economics (higher R&D costs), technology (transition to parallel and multi-core processing, and the development of FPGAs into cutting-edge new process technologies) and markets (unification of CPU architecture, and the increasing use of FPGAs in embedded systems) etc.) and other important factors, these devices reached a critical point.
The newly introduced MP32 is the industry’s first 100% MIPS2.0 architecture compliant soft-core processor optimized for Altera FPGAs. MP32 processor adopts MIPS software and tool assistant system, which supports users to use WindRiver VxWorks real-time operating system and Wind River workbench software development suite. We believe this can help users custom develop their embedded systems with rich software and tools MIPS-assisted systems, as well as Altera’s embedded intellectual property (IP) cores and Qsys system integration flows. The MP32 also accelerates the development of highly integrated low-cost, low-power MIPS custom embedded systems.
After years of innovative investment in embedded systems, Altera has launched the “Embedded Initiative” to build a multi-vendor, multi-CPU architecture SoC FPGA platform based on a single FPGA design flow approach. The FPGA design flow methodology can be used as the basis for a variety of SoC FPGAs, as well as SoC solutions using soft CPUs and other soft IP. ARM A9 (hard), ARMM1 (soft), MIPS (soft), Freescale (soft), and Nios II (soft) CPUs are available from Altera, while the Atom E6X5C configurable processor is provided by Intel. This integrated approach unifies the three major CPU architectures as well as the most popular FPGA-based soft-core CPUs in one FPGA architecture and design flow. This approach achieves a platform effect that facilitates the growth and development of this platform as well as the supporting CPU and its auxiliary supporting systems.

Q2: Since Altera has both ARM and MIPS processor cores in product blueprint planning, what are the differences between the two?
A2: There are many differences between ARM-based hard-core embedded ARM processors and MP32 and other soft-core processors: compared to the FPGA device to be used, the soft-core implementation method is the most flexible. Taking MP32 and Nios II as examples, users choose to use such embedded processors in FPGA devices, including our low-cost Cyclone FPGAs and high-performance Stratix devices, according to the performance and resource requirements of the final system. Moreover, if further enhancement of processing power is required, as long as the logic density supports, the user can put as many soft-core processors in the FPGA or HardCopy ASIC device as possible.
The Altera SoC FPGA architecture will include multiple hard IPs in the ARM-Cortex A9 subsystem, as well as high-performance multi-port memory controllers to increase memory bandwidth. Broadband, low-latency interconnects between the FPGA and CPU subsystems will support high-performance applications and efficient FPGA hardware acceleration. Advanced internal switching architecture will support efficient data throughput, as well as efficient in-system observation and debugging.

Q3: When is the launch of the soft core FPGA expected to be mass-produced? What application market will it be applied in first?
A3: The MP32 is a downloadable soft core processor that is now available for evaluation and purchase, and is represented by our partner System Level Solutions Ltd. (SLS). For more information on the MP32 processor and its detailed specifications, please visit the SLS website: Companies at the forefront of the medical imaging and communications markets have now begun mass adoption of MP32.
MP32 processors actually have a wide range of market applications, for example, users find great advantages in integrating traditional MIPS microprocessors and FPGAs:
a) Faster time-to-market – MP32 processors inherit the advantages of multiple IP cores to support embedded processing, protocols, memory control and applications including video, DSP and networking. Users can indeed take full advantage of the entire MIPS assist system. Moreover, users can easily reuse their own IP, which saves time and investment in developing custom applications.
b) System Integration Efficiency – Our design flow is based on the Qsys system integration tool, available in the latest version of the Quartus II design software. Qsys automatically generates interconnect logic to connect IP functions and subsystems. With MP32, users can take advantage of a large number of MIPS auxiliary systems and use the tools they are familiar with, further reducing design time!
c) Improve system performance – MP32 is a soft core processor, therefore, users can use as many MP32 processors as possible, as long as they can be placed in the selected FPGA device, each processor completes dedicated functions. By using multiple processors, you further improve performance. MP32 is now optimized for our FPGA.
d) Make full use of existing software investment – MP32 processors are 100% compatible with the MIPS 2.0 architecture, so users can reuse software written for their own MIPS processors in their custom applications. All they need to do is recompile the code for MP32 processors.
e) Reduce software development time with VxWorks RTOS support – Using Workbench, Wind River developed a board support package for our Stratix III development kit. VxWorks provides a lot of useful software and middleware that users can reuse in their final applications.
Q4: This soft-core FPGA is launched with the assistance of Wind River. Please tell us about the cooperation between your company and Wind River. In addition, Altrea has also integrated with Intel’s Atom. Will this have a synergistic effect? , what is the most important benefit?
A4: Over the past decade or so, we have clearly realized that the CPU architecture will be unified into: ARM, MIPS, PowerPC and x86. The main reason for this unification trend is the reuse of software features and functions. It is important for designers to be able to easily import and reuse such code in new designs without investing a lot of time and effort in rewriting existing code in different operating systems. Altera’s strategy is to partner with industry leaders in software and CPU architecture to provide users with the best products.

Q5: Altera and Xilinx have introduced processor core IP in the 28nm product line at the same time. Do you think there will be conflicts between the product blueprints of the two companies in the future? Or will there be different application segments?
A5: We think it is a good thing to compete in this field, which will bring better products and solutions to users. While we cannot comment on the company’s future plans and development path, for Altera, we support many of the industry’s best embedded processors through a single FPGA design flow, including:
Altera: Nios II processor
Use the world’s most versatile embedded processor, the Nios II, to perfectly combine peripherals, memory interfaces, and hardware accelerators in your application. Its rich functionality enables unprecedented real-time control in your custom system-on-a-chip (SoC) applications.

ARM: Cortex-M1
The ARM Cortex-M1 processor addresses the high-quality standard processor architecture requirements for Altera FPGA applications, helping you choose the best implementation method for each project.
Freescale: V1 ColdFire

The small package V1 ColdFire core is designed for entry-level 32-bit applications. It improves system utilization, reduces power consumption, and has more than ten times the performance of 8-bit MCUs.
Intel: E6xx
The Intel Atom processor E6x5C series has the advantage of containing the Intel Atom processor E6xx series and an Altera FPGA in a multi-chip package. In this way, you can use dedicated I/O more flexibly, highlight your design advantages, and quickly adapt to changes in demand.

The MP32 processor is the industry’s first and only 100% MIPS compliant soft-core processor supporting the popular VxWorks operating system. You can reuse software code and intellectual property (IP) cores, including your own, to smoothly develop your custom applications and improve performance.
Through these very comprehensive approaches, we believe that we can meet the diverse needs of our users in terms of performance, cost efficiency, flexibility, and time-to-market.

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