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Chip Hall of Fame: Xilinx XC2064 FPGA

Hardware that can transform itself on command has proven incredibly useful

1 min read
Xilinx XC2064 FPGA
Photo: Xilinx

Xilinx XC2064 FPGA chipPhoto: Xilinx


Manufacturer: Xilinx

Category: Logic

Year: 1985

Back in the early 1980s, chip designers tried to get the most out of each and every transistor on their circuits. But then Ross Freeman had a pretty radical idea. He came up with a chip packed with transistors that formed loosely organized logic blocks with connections that could be configured and reconfigured with software. As a result, sometimes a bunch of transistors wouldn’t be used—heresy!—but Freeman was betting that Moore’s Law would eventually make transistors so cheap that no one would care. He was right. To market his chip, called a field-programmable gate array, or FPGA, Freeman cofounded Xilinx. (Apparently, a weird concept called for a weird company name.)

When the company’s first product, the XC2064, came out in 1985, employees were given an assignment: They had to draw, by hand, an example circuit using XC2064’s logic blocks, just as Xilinx customers would. Bill Carter, a former chief technology officer, recalls being approached by CEO Bernie Vonderschmitt, who said he was having “a little difficulty doing his homework.” Carter was only too happy to help the boss. “There we were,” he says, “with paper and colored pencils, working on Bernie’s assignment!” Today FPGAs—sold by Xilinx and others—are used in just too many things to list comprehensively here, but they can be found in things such as software-defined radios, neural networks, and data center routers. Go reconfigure!

Photo: Xilinx

Ross Freeman getting a bird’s-eye view of the XC2064 layout. Perhaps Xilinx’s office manager wouldn’t let them push pins into the wall?

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The Unsung Inventor Who Chased the LED Rainbow

LEDs came only in shades of red—until George Craford expanded the palette

10 min read
Man  with grey hair wearing dress shirt and tie standing in front of an LED stoplight and holding a panel with yellow and red LEDs glowing

Walk through half a football field’s worth of low partitions, filing cabinets, and desks. Note the curved mirrors hanging from the ceiling, the better to view the maze of engineers, technicians, and support staff of the development laboratory. Shrug when you spot the plastic taped over a few of the mirrors to obstruct that view.

Go to the heart of this labyrinth and there find M. George Craford, R&D manager for the optoelectronics division of Hewlett-Packard Co., San Jose, Calif. Sitting in his shirtsleeves at an industrial beige metal desk piled with papers, amid dented bookcases, gym bag in the corner, he does not look like anybody’s definition of a star engineer.

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