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Altera Infuses AI Into New Mid-Range FPGAs

April 10, 2024 by Dale Wilson

Barely a month after its creation (or re-creation), FGPA company Altera hit the stage at Embedded World 2024 in Nuremberg to highlight new AI-focused Agilex 5 FPGAs.

Back in February, Intel announced it was spinning out Altera as a standalone company to focus on FGPAs. With a 40-year pedigree, the Altera name is certainly well-known in the industry. While the company is still 100% owned by Intel, Altera’s CEO, Sandra Rivera, said that Intel plans to sell a stake later this year, with an IPO to follow in roughly 2 years.

 

All About Circuits’ Jeff Child learns about new Altera Agilex 5 FPGAs at Embedded World 2024.

All About Circuits’ Jeff Child learns about new Altera Agilex 5 FPGAs from Altera’s CEO, Sandra Rivera at Embedded World 2024.

 

At Embedded World, Altera had several announcements, including:

  • New Agilex 5 SoC FPGAs
  • Quartus Prime Design Software updates
  • FPGA life cycle suppport extensions

 

New Agilex 5 SoC FPGAs

With the release of the mid-range Agilex 5, Altera claims that this is the first FPGA to have AI infused throughout its FPGA fabric. To highlight the increased AI capabilities, Altera is often referring to these new products using the FPGAi moniker.

 

Agilex 5 FPGAs are infused with AI throughout the architecture.

Agilex 5 FPGAs are infused with AI throughout the architecture.

 

For these new Agilex 5 FPGAs, Altera reports significant improvements in performance and power efficiency:

  • 2x better performance per watt versus competing 7-nanometer FPGAs.
  • 5x increase in the INT8 resources when compared to previous Altera FPGAs.
  • 56 TOPS peak INT8 performance (calculated).
  • 1.7x more power efficient image processing versus competitor GPUs as measured by frames/s/W.
  • 69% higher frames/s than competing AI-focused FPGA families.

 

Altera is reporting significant performance improvements for their new Agilex 5 FPGAs

Altera is reporting significant performance improvements for their new Agilex 5 FPGAs.

 

In addition to highlighting the new Agilex 5 devices, Rivera emphasized the importance of a software tool flow and supporting AI for Altera’s FPGA customers. She noted that Altera has been working for several years to adding AI to not only the hardware, but also the software development tools.

Rivera described how Altera is focused on helping their customers reduce their time to develop prototypes and get new products to market. As one example, Ikegami used the new Agilex 5 FGPAs and Altera’s AI software tools and IP to develop a new edge video product that requires high data throughput and low power. After only 20 hours of development using the Altera tools, Ikegami was successfully displaying camera footage.

Security was another focus of the Agilex 5 FPGAs discussion. With the advanced AI on the FPGA, data security can be improved by processing all of the data within the FPGA. Older and competing solutions may require passing data from the FGPA to an external AI co-processor.

Agilex 5 devices and development kits are currently available from Altera. They also described a large and growing list of ecosystem partners that are providing custom boards, system-on-modules (SOMs), IP, and other related services.

 

Updates to Quartus Prime

At Embedded World, Altera also released its latest version of the Quartus Prime Pro Edition Design Software. Quartus Prime supports design entry, FPGA synthesis, optimization, verification, and simulation.

 

Updates to Quartus Prime Design Software enhance the FPGA development flow.

Updates to Quartus Prime Design Software enhance the FPGA development flow.

 

With Quartus, Altera aims to provide an efficient IP-centric design flow and configurable design examples for their new Agilex 5 SoC FPGAs. Altera also reported that third-party tools have recently been updated to support the Agilex 5 devices.

 

FPGA Life Cycle Support Extended to 2040

This week Altera also announced a 5-year extension of its life cycle support for selected MAX and Cyclone FPGA families. As FGPAs move into applications that include factory automation and smart grid controls, increased lifetime support becomes vital.

 

Altera announces an extension of their product support for multiple FPGA families.

Altera announces an extension of their product support for multiple FPGA families.

 

With the extensions, product developers that aim to deploy new products in 2025 will be able to count on at least 15 years of life cycle support from Altera for these FGPA families.

 

Why It Matters

As AI and high-performance FPGAs move out to the edge, they are often being employed by application specialists, not AI specialists. So, easy-to-use IP and software tools become increasingly important to enable innovation across a variety of industries. While FPGAs also offer re-programmability for future system upgrades, they must do so while remaining power-efficient. Altera is hoping that their new Agilex 5 SOC FPGAs will achieve these goals and more.

 

Featured image background used courtesy of Adobe. All other images used courtesy of Intel.