S2C ships UltraScale empowering SoFPGA

Don Dingee  Published on 10-10-2015 05:00 AM

Most of the discussion around Xilinx UltraScale parts in FPGA-based prototyping modules has been on capacity, and that is certainly a key part of the story. Another use case is developing, one that may be even more important than simply packing a bigger design into a single part without partitioning. The real win with this technology may be system-on-FPGA (SoFPGA).

In the early days of FPGAs, everything was basic rows and columns, without much visibility inside. The good news was this allowed logic blocks to be laid down like tiles. Combinational logic was happy with this approach, and simple sequential logic benefitted from the flexibility. Complexity rose, and generations of more sophisticated FPGAs with improved clocking structures, logic enhancements, and reduced propagation delays raised the bar.

FPGA-based prototyping systems evolved into real prototyping platforms. The prime directive was to reproduce behavior of RTL intended for an ASIC as faithfully as possible in an FPGA. This was easiest if a design fit entirely within a single FPGA, but innovators quickly found creative ways to support larger designs with partitioning and interconnect strategies connecting two, four, or more FPGAs. Debug capability was enhanced, enabling teams to see what was happening inside a design when things were not quite right. Speeds increased, allowing actual software to run, and synthesis times for revisions dropped allowing changes to be made quickly.

That all adds up to a strong value proposition for FPGA-based prototyping of SoCs.

S2C’s announcement of production shipments of single UltraScale VU440 (Single VU) Prodigy Logic Modules represents state-of-the-art in single-module capacity and debug capability. With dual and quad modules on the way soon (available for ordering now), the ability to partition big SoC designs across four UltraScale VU440s is a given.

What sets S2C apart from other FPGA-based prototyping systems is the potential for large-scale system-on-FPGA design, where the deployment system is the FPGA-based platform. Workload-optimized platforms for hardware acceleration of processing and analysis are taking advantage of high-speed FPGA interconnect and advanced DSP capability found in the UltraScale VU440. The Prodigy Cloud Cube from S2C connects up to 16 Single VU Logic Modules today in a massively configurable SoFPGA. 

Such a SoFPGA can tackle parallelism on a scale few other architectures can achieve. SoFPGAs also excel in relatively low-volume applications where justifying a SoC would be difficult. Applications like big data processing, broadcast video, image processing, financial trading, and others with unique high performance requirements in select deployment are ripe for this kind of innovation.

In a departure from previous generations, design of SoFPGA systems with advanced FPGAs like UltraScale can now leverage SoC-class IP, as opposed to only brute-force FPGA tactics or basic RTL for synthesis. The biggest development so far is SoFPGAs are now utilizing AXI as the IP interconnect. This has two distinct advantages: it abstracts the hardware interconnect making IP blocks reusable, and it allows managed traffic flow for advanced software design. 

Startup Wave Semiconductor is beginning to emerge from stealth mode, and is providing a look at how they are leveraging AXI in large FPGA designs. At the October 14th session of the DVClub in Milpitas sponsored by S2C, Wave will present how they are using deep packet inspection to verify AXI traffic. We usually associate DPI with an external networking interface such as Ethernet, but the use of DPI within SoFPGA designs could provide significant advantages in scalability and security.

More details on Single VU production shipments and the upcoming special event are on the S2C site:

S2C Shipping Prodigy Virtex UltraScale and Kintex UltraScale FPGA Prototyping Boards to Customers Worldwide

Wave Semiconductor to Present at S2C-Sponsored DVClub in Silicon Valley on October 14

Again, I’d emphasize that the new S2C Single VU modules are useable in stand-alone configurations, in a more traditional FPGA-based prototyping role. The potential for SoFPGA as a processing platform is fascinating, and we’re excited to see where cloud interconnect, AXI-based IP, and system level approaches like DPI can take applications.