Has anyone worked with the Lattice Semiconductor ECP2M series of FPGA? Were the parts easy to get? Also, how is the ispLever design software from Lattice?
I've worked exclusively with Xilinx FPGAs and am looking for some feedback about what else is out there. My particular interest developed in the Lattice ECP2M because I need a FPGA/SERDES combo and the price for the ECP2M seems unbelievable compared to their competitor's equivalent FPGAs. So, I'm thinking something must be wrong?
I want to work with the parts but have yet to get the design start with Lattice because of unrelated issues. My personal belief is that they targeted the right mix of features at the right time to hit big holes in the competitions' low-cost portfolios. Given reasonable cost of dedicated high-speed devices out there, I just don't understand why SerDes *should* cost as much as is implied by other FPGA vendors. Another aspect: Lattice is probably hungrier than the big guys to get those design wins to establish themselves as a strong player.
I hope we both get a chance to work with the ECP2Ms.
A couple of weeks ago, one of the local FAE's told me that only the biggest device/package (ECP2M100-F1152) is not available in production. This means that you should be able to get parts quickly.
I have personally worked with ECP2M20-F256 on a video board (HD/SD-SDI) and I haven't encountered big issues. I got it to work in some 2 weeks time. And yes you are right, the price of the ECP2M family vs. competitor's equivalent IS incredible. The price was cut by two.
It's this kind of approach that made me drop X and start using Lattice.
I find that the Lattice approach is much more upfront - its all on the web and the distribution is used for box shifting (which is about all they are capable of (on a good day)).
My heart sinks when a semi company says 'contact the disti of FAE' - in the case of small users like me and the big distributors like X and A use it means 'prepare to plumb new depths of ignorance and/or bad service'
For a while X had only one distributor in the UK and that was truly awful. There are 2 now but my limited contact with the new one has not been strong on surpise and delight.
How about Altera's Aria GX? The 60K LE device is $262.50 from Arrow, about the same as the 70K device from Lattice. The SERDES in the Lattice device looks better (and there are more of them), but Altera's synthesis tools are better. The free web edition software supports this device.
I know they support x4 PCIe, if that's why you need the SERDES.
/* firstname.lastname@example.org AB1GO */ /* Joseph H. Allen */
I would hope that contacting your Xilinx distributor would result in useful and helpful information.
If not, we would certainly like to know.
"Being small" has many disadvantages, but I have to say that many FPGA sockets are created by 'small' businesses. To that end I would hope that our distributors are doing the job we expect them to do by providing you with the services you require.
Sounds like that did not happen. Perhaps this is something we should be aware of?
As always, Peter an I stand ready to listen (and act).
I think there's often a problem of poor communication. Here are some examples from my own experience (working alone, not as part of a large company):
----------------------------------------- Altera: I'm involved in developing with this vendor's products (mainly because I came across Altera first), so I have most experience with them. I can find all the information I need and the basic documentation is very good. The dev kits are excellent, but the accompanying example code makes you wonder if they know what they're doing. I've found the field engineers to be very helpful, but...I feel repelled from this vendor because of the hassle in installing tools (registering against a fixed MAC address and so on) and, if I want to register on their site, I must promise to keep Altera informed of my career moves for ever and ever (which I refuse to do). This has pushed me to look at other suppliers.
----------------------------------------- Lattice: Despite the abysmal experience of a visit by the UK/Ireland Sales manager, I was still keen to learn of competing products, so I attended a seminar arranged by a distributor. This was excellent, so I made enquiries about buying a development kit. It seemed that the XP10 demo board would be best and the distributor was offering this at the "special" price of $555.
Just to make sure I knew what I was getting (since there were two dev boards with the XP10), I enquired to confirm that this was the "LatticeXP Advanced Evaluation Board". The answer came back "The special offer relates to the "Standard" XP board". In other words, the distributor wanted to charge $555 (their "special" price") for the board which Lattice advertised on their web site for $229.
A narrow escape there, but at least we didn't waste $555 on a dev kit which is (as I understand it), an oscillator, an FPGA and a few LEDs.
----------------------------------------- Xilinx: Another excellent seminar organised by a distributor and a great dev board advertised there for an great price ($199). So I enquired at the seminar...
I was referred to someone else who was there and given that person's business card. The seminar was nearly done and he was busy, so I decided to e-mail him when I got home. He telephoned and asked me to contact their sales office. Nothing like giving the customer a chance to get away, eh?
So, I e-mailed the sales office the same day (4th June), quoting the exact product reference. They replied by sending me a quotation which estimated delivery on 4th August and telling us not to pay but to apply for a credit account, giving our company registration number, VAT registration number, postal code, telephone number, fax number, trading names, a trade referee (with telephone number and fax number), a second trade referee (with telephone number and fax number) - all this to buy a development kit for about $199.
Am I in a parallel universe? I reach into my pocket for $199. I don't waste my time making credit account applications.
The same product was available in stock at Digi-Key for a few dollars more, so we ordered it and it came the same week (from a different continent).
Which would you choose? Digi-key (21st century) or the distributor (19th century)?
On 17th July, the distributor e-mailed us (as an attendee at the seminar) to ask if we wanted to buy any of the Xilinx development kits. I think you can guess our reply.
So, maybe the kit is good (I haven't yet had time to do more than check that it seems to work), but I feel that we don't have a distributor of any serious value to us, so would it actually be much use switching it on?
----------------------------------------- As ever, the chief problem with all the vendors is that, if you want to know about prices, the response is typically the robotic, unblinking face, saying "We can talk about prices...tell us about your application...".
The Altera Arria GX may be a technically good device but the prices from the factory were - at least at the time - double what we were quoted for the Lattice and Xilinx alternatives. These were quantity quotes with production over a year away. Double? Maybe the quote was a fluke since prototype pricing for a larger part came in much better than I expected (given the recent experience) when our coworkers on another coast got quotes from their local sales folks.
My experience (also as a small company in the UK, like some of the other respondents) is that the franchised distributors are all entirely useless for every aspect of everything to do with electronic design, whether it's technical info, prices or delivery of parts.
They're an infuriating intermediary who do nothing except turn us against manufacturers who have been ill-advised enough to abandon all their customer-facing activities to distributers.
To the utmost degree possible, we only select components where we can find a
*guide* volume price using Findchips or on the manufacturer's website, buy ex-stock parts from RS, Farnell or Digikey and obtain the technical information we need directly from the manufacturer (without filling in forms).
Over the lifetime of any product I've worked on, obtaining the actual parts to actually build things has been just as big a deal as doing the original design. As a customer, putting oneself at the mercy of the Arrows of the world is crazy - and I've never been able to work out why the manufacturers do it.
I can't believe that X or A have more than a few hundred shipping products at any one time (even with all the speed/package variants). Why on earth can't you sell the wretched things directly from your website - your average corner-store handles a large range of products with more sophisticated storage and handling requirements.
As far as I can tell, the conventional distributors:
Don't hold stock
Don't break volume in any useful way, so you can't buy small quantities
Can't give proper prices without going back to the mfg
Can't offer hard technical advice (i.e. not in the published litterature) without going back to the mfg
Here's one thing they do: they sell parts to large companys based on a PO. In other words they loan money between the time of part delivery and the PO getting paid. If you pay them late, I bet the interest rate they charge is much better than credit-card interest rates, and I bet you can frequently talk them out of charging interest.
So you can directly buy parts from many semiconductor manufactures using your credit card, even from A and X (although X redirects you to a distributer). This is my complaint: when you pay them by credit card, you should get the best possible price plus the 2.5% credit card fee. I mean, they get paid immediately, so they should be very happy with credit card orders.
What the manufactures want even more: accurate projections of your future purchases. Then they don't have to guess how many chips to make. Your contract manufacture should be able to do a much better job of this than the distributer.
/* email@example.com AB1GO */ /* Joseph H. Allen */
It's encouraging, and perhaps not too surprising, to see you responding thus. However, for small customers in Europe, the poor performance of distis in supporting smaller customers, both technically and in making strategic product choices, is very old news. And it's not just FPGAs; my bleat applies to the whole component distribution business.
I don't buy parts from distis any more; I'm not in manufacturing, and on the rare occasions when I need to buy silicon I just take the one-off price hit of going to Digikey or whatever. But in earlier lives I was on both sides of the disti - as a small development-oriented customer, and as a technical FAE in a device manufacturer. In neither of these roles did I feel well-served by the distis. They often made noises about doing a technical sell and needing in-house technical expertise, but their FAEs were always paid peanuts and had to make their living through sales-target bonuses; so, surprise surprise, their focus was always on design-in numbers. Anything with a timeline longer than three months was beyond the next bonus payment and therefore irrelevant. Anything technically difficult could either be punted upwards to the manufacturers' FAEs, or (more likely in the case of small customers) simply ignored because the customer would not cost them very much if they merely went away. There was simply no motivation for the disti FAEs to get real technical expertise. They were usually spread way too thinly across a raft of disparate products from several vendors, so had no chance to gain real depth of knowledge in anything.
I had hoped that with the recent consolidation of distribution in Europe, things might have improved. Maybe they have, but the feeling I get from this group is not encouraging.
Maybe things are better in the US. Perhaps there are so many design starts there that even a modest distribution organisation can retain useful technical expertise. I simply don't know.
It doesn't have to be like this. For example, I know a few of the distributors for various EDA tools here in the UK, and I perceive their technical expertise to be pretty impressive and their customer support responsive and helpful. Component distribution, by contrast, seems to be stuck in a 1970s road-warrior timewarp despite the obvious importance to future sales of effective support of new designs. They're not even very good at being a stockholding supermarket, as others have pointed out. (Sheesh, they are there to *sell* stuff. But the typical experience is to be told that you can't have one unless you want a truckload and you don't mind waiting until three weeks after the next festival of St.Polycarp, or something; and you aren't allowed to know what price it will be until you say how many you want, so you are barred from making your own intelligent decisions about what parts to use.)
Thanks for letting me get that off my chest :-)
Jonathan Bromley, Consultant
DOULOS - Developing Design Know-how
If one argues that FPGA technology needs to become more user friendly, and easier to use, in order to make inroads into all possible applications, your experience is merely one example of an opportunity (for Xilinx).
Sure, we could say "well, that is life" but who would we be serving?
Or, we could strive to improve the situation and potentially walk away with stellar growth, and excellent sales figures?
Personally, I will work towards the latter choice.
Please don't forget that the experiences I was reporting (ranting about) are a decade old. To a large extent I think it's an opportunity you've already grasped - webshop, excellent online documentation, free software downloads for smaller customers, good appnotes.... and, dare I say, informal access to top-notch factory expertise via public media such as this group.
Nah. You wouldn't do that. You need to eat too :-)
Like I said: it seems to me that major FPGA vendors have somewhat taken that opportunity already. Almost without exception, they (or at least their FPGA business) started small, with reasonably close relations between factory and even the smaller customers. As they've grown they seem to have remembered that heritage, and the quality of technical information available through FPGA vendors' websites and other resources is pretty good. (Yes, I know people complain all the time. And you put a brave face on it, because you know that there's at least a grain of truth in most complaints, and you want happy customers and happy potential customers. We appreciate it. Really.)
I see the result of all this being a sidelining of the traditional distributor role as intermediary between factory and customer. Instead, the successful distributors either act as supermarkets (in which case let us treat them as such, and punish with our lack of custom those who can't keep their shelves full of attractive products at attractive prices) or act as agencies helping large customers collaborate effectively with the factory to ensure a good deal for both parties. The traditional component disti, who tries to erect walls between customer and factory to protect his own revenue monopoly at the customer's expense, is surely a dinosaur whose meteorite is already bright in the sky. Their passing will be mourned by but few.
Jonathan Bromley, Consultant
DOULOS - Developing Design Know-how
Wow, how a discussion can evolve from a single reply from Austin to contact my disti to a discussion about the distribution landscape in Europe.
At Austin I would like to say: Austin, I've contacted my disti, but they don't carry Xilinx. I'm sorry, I'm a Lattice user, so if I would concider Xilinx (or Altera) the disti should contact me, shouldn't they?
At all they other posters in this discussion: yes, you are right, distribution has changed, but I wouldn't generalize this statement. There are still good FAE's in this world. But the supplier should train them well, and let them do their job, get experienced, find the best solution (even if this is not in line with the directives from the supplier to sell the newest part), ...
Concider this statement: distribution FAE's are the sausage between the hot dog. They are sitting between the supplier and the customer and are also trying to do what they are payed for.
At the end, I haven't found out the latest and greatest from Xilinx - and as long as the parts aren't available in production, I will not concider them for a new design. The ECP2M that I'm using is in production, I get my parts at a decent price (better than the "one off" price at Digikey), and I get from time to time annoying questions from the disti FAE. But that's life I guess. (refering to Austin)
At least, I'm happy that my design is working. Now I can look for someone who can build it in smaller quantities. But that's another discussion, isn't it?