General-purpose test instruments consist of products such as oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, signal generators, video test equipment, automotive test equipment, and many more. These products are used across multiple applications in environments ranging from labs to manufacturing facilities.

Programmable logic continues to play an important role in general-purpose test instrument development. FPGA flexibility and scalability accelerates time to market and reduces risk. This, coupled with the rapid advances in integration capability, have made programmable logic the new centerpiece of both hardware and software development teams.

In addition to the use of programmable logic, numerous new circuit structures are emerging as performance requirements and circuit densities increase. Significant use of new buses, often involving high-speed serial data transfer, and the commonplace use of system-on-a-chip (SoC) and system-on-a-programmable-chip (SOPC) devices have been pervasive in the industry. Now designers must deal with very complex design and circuit structures, making in-circuit debug harder and, at the same time, even more necessary. Figure 1 shows high-speed capture, analysis, and processing for online measurements in typical video test equipment.

Figure 1. Typical FPGA Usage in Video Test Equipment


The feature-rich architecture of the Intel® Stratix®, Arria®, and Cyclone® series FPGAs provides an excellent solution for general-purpose test instrument and equipment production. These programmable device families give system designers the flexibility, performance, integration, and design resources that are not available in any other device solution. These silicon products, combined with Intel® FPGA Intellectual Property (IP), provide designers with industry-leading solutions for the development of next-generation general-purpose test instruments and equipment.

Stratix series FPGAs use a high-performance architecture that accelerates block-based designs for maximum system performance. Stratix devices include up to 950K equivalent logic elements (LEs), up to 52 Mb of embedded memory, high-performance variable-precision digital signal processing (DSP) blocks with up to 3,926 18x18 high-performance multipliers, and flexible I/Os for most popular interface standards.

Stratix series devices also include transceivers capable of data rates up to 28.05 Gbps, as well as up to 66 full-duplex transceiver channels supporting up to 14.1 Gbps, with the accuracy required for multiple serial protocols such as PCI Express® 1.1, 2.0, and 3.0. The inclusion of the transceivers in some family members provides a solution that is efficient in both cost and board-space for general-purpose tester products. Built on the Stratix architecture, Stratix series FPGAs include the embedded memory and LE resources needed for input and output data processing functions, such as framing, bit-error rate testing, and clock signal synchronization.

Arria® FPGA series include unique innovations such as an embedded dual-core ARM® CortexTM-A9 MPCoreTM processor. This HPS includes a rich set of hardened peripherals, the lowest power transceivers at 6.5536 Gbps and 10.3125 Gbps, hardened memory interfaces, and a power-optimized core architecture that comprises redesigned adaptive logic modules (ALMs), variable-precision DSP blocks, distributed and new M10K embedded memory blocks, and fractional clock synthesis phase-locked loops (PLLs).

Cyclone series FPGAs are high-density, low-cost devices that provide a precise fit for applications that need a lower price per signal. Cyclone devices can be used in conjunction with Intel IP cores, such as the Nios® II embedded processor, to implement control functions that significantly shorten design time. This embedded IP can shorten development cycles, lower costs, and yield faster time to market. The integration of various peripherals into a single Cyclone series device reduces the number of discrete components on boards, along with the related design costs and time, leading to significant cost savings. With a highly efficient device architecture, Cyclone series devices meet the performance and integration needs of general-purpose test products.

Intel offers a variety of IP cores that can be utilized in tester equipment. Chip-to-chip interfaces such as SFI, SPI3, SPI4.x, SGMII, and XAUI, and memory interfaces such as DDR3 and RLDRAM III can be downloaded from 

Table 1. Intellectual Property, Development Kits, and Reference Designs