What is FPGA and Why is it Required
The world of electronics segments simulations and prototyping as its primary functions to design any hardware. The hardware is designed, keeping in mind a particular product and its concurring standards and protocols. The pre-fixated standards and protocols make it a big challenge for end-users to reconfigure the hardware later on as per changing requirements.
This requirement of more flexibility in functionalizing any hardware after manufacturing led to the growth of a new and dynamic segment in electronics, which is the Field Programmable Gate Arrays called FPGAs.
FPGAs have since then revolutionized the changeability of hardware functionality and made scalability of devices a common-known phenomenon to increase efficiency multi-scales.
What is an FPGA?
FPGAs are a type of prefabricated semiconductor devices, similar to silicon chips, that contain programmable logic blocks and interconnection circuits. Such circuits are also known as reconfigurable integrated circuits because of their ability to be programmed or reprogrammed ‘n’ number of times as per the required functionality.
Therefore, if a circuit board is manufactured with a preinstalled and pre-programmed FPGA, then the same will have the flexibility to be reprogrammed later on after its production or sales, in the field, to make an updated circuit which has additional or updated functionalities than the previous version.
This very feature of FPGA makes it more desirable than the Application Specific Integrated Circuits, which are custom manufactured with specific tasks and cannot be modified later on.
Advantages of using FPGA
There are various advantages of using an FPGA over other programmable logic devices in various prototypes or limited production designs because of the flexibility, reusability, and easy acquisition.
Reduces time-to-market of products
The reprogrammability of FPGA reduces the time-to-market of products multifold. FPGA is used for prototyping and testing or verification of hardware before their fabrication in the form of ASICs. Using FPGA, multiple steps of development can be carried out simultaneously through its parallelization feature, and it can be updated or upgraded at any stage of the whole process, even at the customer’s end later on. Since FPGAs are not pre-designed to perform specific tasks, businesses or individuals can buy a ready-made FPGA and then configure it as per their pain points and requirements later on.
FPGAs are more cost-efficient
The cost of FPGA is usually more than that of microprocessors or ASICs. Still, since they are reprogrammable and optimize the number of gates in a circuit to suit different functionalities, they prove to be more cost-effective as they cut the recurring costs of buying different ASICs to meet different needs. Also, a small design mistake in ASIC cannot be fixed and requires a respin to produce a new chip, which is not the case with FPGAs.
Facilitates high-speed and complex processing to reduce latency
FPGAs are known for performing high-speed and complex processing and stand out for carrying out parallelized tasks. Modern-day microprocessors are equipped to execute on multiple cores with out-of-order instructions, but this advantage is not well-suited for tasks that require massive image or digital signal processing applications. The data flow and processing speed are also somewhat limited in microprocessors, and the benefit with FPGAs is that they contain many soft and hard microprocessors operating inside them, which makes them ideal for any high-speed and complex processing task.
Reduces manual intervention
The design cycle of FPGAs is simpler to manage as its complementing software is equipped to automatically handle functions like routing, placement, and timing to match the programmed specification. This cuts down the need for manual intervention and makes FPGA more reliable and desirable.
The most prominent characteristic of FPGA is its reprogrammability, which makes it flexible, reusable, and faster for prototyping and testing. It reduces the cost of mistakes since it can be reprogrammed on the identification of any errors during testing and converted to an ASIC to develop the prototype.
Applications of FPGA
The application of FPGA is widely spread over many use cases and industries that require high speed or complex processing with the flexibility of changing the circuit functionality. Some applications to understand the use case of FPGAs are as follows:-
- Jet Autopilot: The autopilots in fighter jets require almost negligible response time for processing the input and output to facilitate highly responsive maneuverability. Since FPGAs do not depend on generic operating systems or generic buses like USB or PCIe for communication, they deliver a latency of around or below 1 microsecond.
- Image and Video Processing: High-resolution image and video processing are compute-intensive and require the hardware to operate on a stream of pixels rather than a full-frame at a time. FPGA delivers higher performance per watt than software on a general-purpose CPU, which accelerates the process.
- Data Centers: Highly efficient server and storage systems are the core of a large-scale data center. The use of frequency scaling using traditional CPUs to increase performance has ended and brought a shift towards multicore processing, which has its own limits concerning I/O and memory bandwidth. FPGAs provide customized high-bandwidth, low-latency connections to network and storage systems which makes them well-suited and preferred by data centers to accelerate performance.
- Medical electronics: The use of FPGAs in medical electronics has increased multi-folds with a full spectrum of applications in multiple spheres. For example, medical imaging uses FPGA in detection and image construction. Detection requires embedded systems, real-time performance, and faces significant hardware interface challenges. Since FPGA is known for high-performance computing, it makes image reconstruction as a faster and more efficient process. Other benefits of FPGA include an easy system development process, which reduces the time to market of medical products which are time-sensitive.
Conclusion: The blog clearly states what an FPGA is, it’s advantages with respect to microprocessors and ASICs along with its application in various domains. FPGAs have disrupted SoC design with its wide range of functionalities that offer flexibility, scalability, and customization. System Level Solutions (SLS) spearheads a broad spectrum of FPGA services starting right from design, development, and customization of FPGAs. Their services further extend to converting ASICs to FPGAs, and providing disparate IP core services as per client needs. The serviceability makes SLS one of the fastest-growing tech firms with operations and clientele across the globe.