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Talking about FPGA design tools

Date: Jan 15, 2021

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Due to the remarkable achievements in process technology and the ingenuity in the field of silicon chip design, FPGAs are constantly fulfilling their commitment to support system-on-chip design. With the introduction of each new generation of products, FPGAs have more and more functions in the system, which can be used as coprocessors, DSP engines, and communication platforms, and can even be used as a complete system-on-chip in certain applications.

Therefore, under the action of Moore's Law, the number of gates of FPGA products is increasing, and the performance and special functions are gradually strengthened, making FPGA in the field of electronic systems can replace the previous role that only ASIC and ASSP can play. However, in the final analysis, FPGAs must be assisted by appropriate design tools to allow designers to give full play to their role, otherwise, no matter how good the product is, it is meaningless.

FPGA development board.png

There is no doubt that with the upgrading of FPGA silicon chips, the FPGA tools have made significant progress in improving the synthesis runtime, compilation time, and placement and routing algorithms while achieving lower power consumption and higher performance. However, the above progress is basically not reflected in embedded software, and DSP designers or system architecture engineers are not familiar with FPGA design work. Although FPGA performance and customization are better than MPU and ASSP, many design teams still choose MPU or ASSP because they are not familiar with FPGA design. This situation really should not blame the design team. After all, the design work of MPU or ASSP should be easier and faster, and it takes time to learn new design techniques, which leads to a longer design cycle for the design team. If you want to help FPGA users succeed, you must automate the design work, but you can't forcefully define the user's design process.

From another perspective, if you want to further promote FPGA, you need to further meet the needs and design method requirements of embedded software and other design fields such as DSP on the basis of existing VHDL and Verilog designers. These designers have their own specific requirements and need different design methods and languages. An appropriate platform should be constructed so that FPGA vendors and their third-party ecological partners can meet the needs of specific applications and markets on this basis.

For example, with the launch of the latest Virtex-6 and Spartan-6 FPGA series products, Xilinx began to recommend the concept of a "target design platform" to customers.

The target design platform integrates five key components on the basis of fully taking into account the customer's design process and success requirements: FPGA devices, IP cores, design environments using industry verification methods, powerful reference designs, and expandable development boards and kits. As part of the above solution, we have also optimized the tools to provide various tools and IP required for specific design areas such as logic, embedded, DSP, and system-level design to ensure that the design team's work efficiency is improved. Logic designers naturally have to ensure that they have a complete RTL design flow with all traditional FPGA tools to meet the needs of advanced layout, online verification, and incremental implementation. However, FPGA vendors need to proceed from the practical needs of designers in other fields, so that embedded and DSP designers and system architects can link all aspects of design work and use programmable logic efficiently.

FPGA manufacturers have supported the development of embedded and digital processing technologies for many years and have witnessed tremendous changes in the market. Especially in the past two and a half years, we have seen an average of 20% of embedded design customers are using more than one processor. In the past, the challenge that customers faced was mainly how to complete the design work independently, but now, it is necessary to provide customers with a more automated design process that can simplify system generation and give full play to the role of multiprocessors.

Embedded designers need a new design method that allows them to quickly configure the hardware platform and create custom software designs that include appropriate libraries, automatically generated device drivers, and a complete development board support kit. This efficient environment can accelerate the development process, save development time, and avoid error-prone manual operations. In addition, designers must be able to create their own customized processing platform to integrate external functions into the FPGA, thereby reducing system costs. This can help them achieve the best balance between system characteristics and size, and between software/hardware characteristics, so as to achieve the highest cost performance

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