"Tradeoffs in Flight-Design Upset Mitigation in State-of-the-Art FPGAs: Hardened By Design vs. Design-Level Hardening"
Gary M. Swift
California Institute of Technology/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This presentation compares and contrasts the effectiveness and the system/designer impacts of the two main approaches to upset hardening: the Actel approach (RTSX-S and RTAX-S) of low-level (inside each flip-flop) triplication and the Xilinx approach (Virtex and Virtex2) of design-level triplication of both functional blocks and voters. The effectiveness of these approaches is compared using measurements made in conjunction with each of the FPGAs' manufacturer: for Actel, published data  and for Xilinx, recent results from the Xilinx SEE Test Consortium (note that the author is an active and founding member). The impacts involve Actel advantages in the areas of transistor-utilization efficiency and minimizing designer involvement in the triplication while the Xilinx advantages relate to the ability to custom tailor upset hardness and the flexibility of re-configurability. Additionally, there are currently clear Xilinx advantages in available features such as the number of I/O's, logic cells, and RAM blocks as well as speed. However, the advantage of the Actel anti-fuses for configuration over the Xilinx SRAM cells is that the latter need additional functionality and external circuitry (PROMs and, at least a watchdog timer) for configuration and configuration scrubbing. Further, although effectively mitigated if done correctly, the proton upset-ability of the Xilinx FPGAs is a concern in severe proton-rich environments. Ultimately, both manufacturers' upset hardening is limited by SEFI (single-event functional interrupt) rates where it appears the Actel results are better although the Xilinx Virtex2-family result of about one SEFI in 65 device-years in solar-min GCR (the more intense part of the galactic cosmic-ray background) should be acceptable to most missions.
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