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FPGAs lead the way as chip design turns to optics

04 January 2012

Altera has demonstrated a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) prototype with optical interfaces. The technology demonstrator uses 12x10Gbps parallel optical interfaces from Avago Technologies.

Combining the FPGA with optics extends the chip’s reach up to 100m. Such a device, once commercially available, could connect high-speed electronics on a line card without requiring expensive printed circuit board (PCB) materials. The device could also link equipment such as Ethernet switches within the data centre.

"It is solving a problem the industry is going to face," said Craig Davis, product marketing manager at Altera. "As you go to faster bit-rate transceivers, the losses on the PCB become huge.

"FPGAs, with their vast digital logic resources and high-speed electrical interfaces, are playing an increasingly important role in telecom and datacom equipment as the cost of developing application-specific standard products continues to rise.

Altera's FPGAs, with their high-speed electrical transceivers, can meet the 10GBASE-KR backplane standard at spans of up to 40 inches. Moving to 28Gbps electrical transceivers, the distance would be reduced to several inches only.
The optical FPGA prototype combines a Stratix IV EP4S100G5 with two Avago MicroPod 12x10Gbps optical engines. The 100G5 FPGA has 28x 11.3Gbps electrical transceivers, 12 of which are connected to the MicroPods: a transmitter optical sub-assembly (TOSA) and a receiver optical sub-assembly (ROSA).
The FPGA vendor stresses that this is a technology demonstrator only. And Altera will not say when its first optical FPGA product will be launched, or whether the optical technology will enter the market interfacing to its FPGAs' 11.3Gbps, 14.1Gbps or highest-speed 28Gbps transceivers. 
By Roy Rubenstein