I am getting a little late in my reading with all of the customer activity that resulted from the recent Design Automation Conference in June. I finally had a chance to read the May Embedded System Design magazine and I saw a great article about the use of 32 bit processors in FPGAs. The article references Gartner Dataquest data regarding the FPGA design starts and overlays the percentage that have embedded processors. They believe that by 2010, 40% of all FPGAs will have embedded processors (see the chart).
Think of it, not only is the operation of your product programmable, but all of the physical interface between the processor and the outside world as well! It is easy to see how the design of these systems is becoming easier and easier.
For the Design Automation Conference, GateRocket downloaded and used a Sparc based SoC design from Open Cores. It served as a great demonstration vehicle and showed what can be done on the latest crop of FPGA devices.
Both Altera and Xilinx have done a great job of helping designers build systems on FPGAs by providing tools that help them and provide a wide assortment of intellectual property building blocks, of which the embedded processor is just one component.
Xilinx's tool is called Platform Studio and has an Embedded Development Kit to construct complete embedded systems. Their soft processor is called the MicroBlaze. In addition to soft processors, they offer chips with embedded PowerPC hard cores for advanced system design.
So you can build a system on a chip, but can you debug it? The easier it is to build a complex system the faster the product development burden shifts to the design verification phase. That is why GateRocket is focused on helping the FPGA community debug these advanced designs.
FPGAs have clearly grown in complexity and size and are modern day Systems on Chips!