Monthly Archives: May 2008

More FPGAs on Mars

The Phoenix Mars lander is scheduled to be on the surface of Mars this weekend, on Sunday. At least one Actel FPGA is on board, handling pressure and temperature data processing.

Note that Actel and Xilinx FPGAs are already rolling around on Mars, in the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.

Details of the Phoenix lander and its gadgets can be found on the JPL Mars Page.

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FPGA and DSP Co-Design

Our pals at 3L put together a nice demonstration using a Sundance DSP/FPGA development board. Check it out:

DSP/FPGA Co-Processing Demonstrates 20X Acceleration using Software-to-Hardware Design Flow

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Altera announces 40nm Stratix IV

Gee, it seems like just yesterday that 90nm process was a big deal…
Altera announces 40-nm Stratix IV FPGAs and HardCopy IV ASICs

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Slaughterhouse Virtex-5?

FPGAs are appearing in some, ah, interesting places. Read about Automated Meat Processing in Vision Systems Magazine.

Embedded 3-D machine-vision system guides robotic cutting of beef carcasses

The stereo vision system used in this industrial-sized nail clipper is pretty cool. The manufacturer describes it this way:

TYZX’ DeepSea G2 Stereo Vision System is a small embedded camera with low power requirements that delivers high performance visual analysis (up to 60 fps) in variable lighting conditions. Designed for widespread deployment in applications such as security and navigation, the G2 provides real-time 3D vision processing without the use of workstations…

The DeepSea G2 system is based around Xilinx FPGAs that perform image rectification, 2D and 3D quantization and other compute-intensive tasks. In a technical white paper, the system designers describe how the FPGA is combined with an ADI Blackfin processor and a custom ASIC to strike the right balance between performance and flexibility. One interesting tidbit is found in the following table, where the first and second generation products are described:

Resource table

Notice that the Pentium III processor that did much of the heavy lifting in their first-generation product completely disappears in the second generation. This example points again to the need for tools and design methods that support partitioning between many different types of processing elements.

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Floating-point performance in FPGAs

Dave Strenski of Cray and Jim Simkins, Richard Walke and Ralph Wittig from Xilinx have published an updated version of Strenski’s earlier article on floating-point performance in FPGAs.

Strenski’s analysis indicates that the biggest, baddest Xilinx FPGAs today (for floating point that would be the new Virtex-5 SX240T) have significantly higher peak performance than the biggest, baddest quad-core AMD Opteron. The article doesn’t delve into the relative power consumption of the FPGA vs the Opteron. That’s where the real story lies.

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Data centers and Green IT

Here’s a reconfigurable computing blog of note I just came across. Check out this posting by Amir Hirsh about server power management: Datacenter Power Management: Subverting the Dominant Paradigm.

Last month I attended the Washington Technology Summit where power efficiency and alternative energy were big topics (along with life sciences and advanced materials). During a panel discussion on Green IT, Christian Belady of Microsoft described methods that Microsoft and its competitors use to power and cool the hundreds of thousands of CPUs that now make up a large scale data center.

During the Q&A I couldn’t help raising my hand and asking the obvious question: aren’t we attacking the wrong problem? If most of the general-purpose processors in the data centers are being applied to highly specialized problems (web-search, for example, or streaming video transcoding), they why aren’t we making more use of lower-power reconfigurable hardware?

Christian had sort of a blank look (after all, his job is watching the power meter on the building, not deciding what actually goes in all those server boxes) but another panelist, Don Tilton of Spraycool knew exactly what I was getting at. He took the microphone and opined that “GPU and FPGA accelerators are a potential solution” to the problem.

Amen.

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Xilinx ML507 board: “Sweet!”

Ed is in geek heaven with his new ML507 board from Xilinx. This is a board designed to be a development and prototyping vehicle for all kinds of embedded applications. It’s got a PCI Express interface, video inputs and outputs, audio, network interface, all kinds of connectors. Too big to re-install the computer’s cover after installing it in a slot… but who cares?

If you are thinking about development using Xilinx FPGAs with an embedded PowerPC, then get yourself an ML507. And get a compatible C-to-hardware compiler while you’re at it.

 

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