By Dan Isaacs (Xilinx), Ed Trexel (Impulse Accelerated Technologies), and Bruce Karsten (Xilinx) Aug 13, 2007 (12:44 PM), Embedded Systems Design Multiprocessing is becoming a key differentiator for FPGA-based processor architectures.
Of the design benefits that FPGAs provide embedded systems designers, one key advantage is the ability to adapt and quickly respond to changing system requirements. FPGAs have evolved from the simple interface logic devices of yesterday into highly sophisticated processing devices that are capable of integrating and accelerating entire embedded systems. Modern FPGA-based systems often include multiple soft and hard processors running industry-standard real-time operating systems (RTOSs), along with processor peripherals and custom hardware accelerators for performance-critical algorithms. As a direct result of these capabilities, FPGAs are now being used to develop highly flexible, hybrid multiprocessing applications and systems.
Embedded systems designers face a wide range of processing-related design challenges. Real-time and performance-critical systems demand increased performance, but also require lowered power consumption. Critical embedded applications may require dedicated computing hardware or the use of additional processors to meet performance and power constraints.
To address the performance barrier, a standard approach in the past has been to raise the operating frequency of the processor. Increasing clock speeds increases power consumption, however, so embedded systems designers have turned to other approaches to improve the performance/power ratio. These approaches include the use of additional processors or through the use of specialized coprocessors including FPGAs.
Adding additional devices to a system can be costly, especially when considering the requirements for increased system reliability and sustainable power budgets as well as physical size, thermal, and packaging constraints. Adding more devices to resolve performance issues forces other tradeoffs and adds yet another component to an already lengthy bill of materials. Modern FPGAs, with their ability to integrate multiple processors and coprocessors in a single device, provide one solution to this problem.
In a modern FPGA-based application, one processor may be used to run an operating system. Further integration may be achieved by adding additional coprocessors for noncritical algorithms. These processors can be integrated with dedicated hardware accelerators, all in the same programmable FPGA device.
The result is a hybrid multiprocessing application with a reduced component count.
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