Neways to manufacture Lofar electronics upgrade

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Astron, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, has awarded a tender for the supply of 328 Uniboard2 units to Neways in Leeuwarden. The UniBoard2 upgrade makes the Lofar radio telescope suitable for processing more and faster data. Neways has already performed the “design for experience” analyses and is now allowed to produce and test these complex printed circuit board assemblies. The total order value is 3 million euros and the project will start in July 2020.

The Uniboard has been developed to implement signal processing such as filter banks, beamformers and correlators for enormous amounts of data, such as Lofar generates. It’s equipped with standard interfaces and can be used stand-alone or multiple boards can be combined through a backplane to build larger systems. The Uniboard1 contains eight 40nm Altera Stratix IV FPGAs, capable of processing 160 Gb/s of data. This first generation was also manufactured by Neways.

Incorporating four 20nm Altera Arria10s, the Uniboard2 can process up to 3 Tb/s. Credit: Astron

The Uniboard2 successor uses the latest generation of FPGAs on the market. It’s part of the digital upgrade project for Lofar, called Dupplo, that has been awarded to Astron by NWO, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. The upgrade allows multiple forms of astronomical research to be conducted in parallel and related to each other, opening up new possibilities for groundbreaking science.

Incorporating four 20nm Altera Arria10s, the Uniboard2 can process up to 3 Tb/s. Each FPGA has access to two memory devices of 16 GB each, resulting in a total memory capacity of 128 GB. The board was designed to be extended for the next generation of Altera devices, the Stratix10, which offer even more capacity. Furthermore, an extension board has been developed to interface the FPGAs with hybrid memory cubes, which are likely to replace DDR memory modules.

“The tender of the Uniboard2 was carried out in accordance with a careful European procedure. In our assessment, Neways scored highest on both quality and price and has therefore received this order. In addition to the public process of the European tender, Neways has added value for Astron for this contract because they’ve already been successfully involved in the development of comparable complex boards”, says Nico Ebbendorf, competence group leader at Astron in Dwingeloo.