FPGAs have become more versatile in the last couple of years than they have ever been before. That is why there has been a stupendous rise in the usage and that too in every industry. It now can gain processing power at a very stable price. With FPGAs becoming increasingly useful for a large number of applications, the developers have categorized them into two parts: the high-end FPGA that are used in heavy machinery and electric gadgets, and the low-end FPGA that are used in mass products like televisions. It is the flexibility of the FPGAs that has made it so acceptable for so many industries.
For those who are not aware of what exactly is an FPGA, it will be easy to understand by taking the example of a CD or a DVD-R. Just like you fill your CD-R or DVD-R with music or movies or data, similarly, you can fill the FPGA with logical connections. FPGA is nothing but a programmable chip where you can add new logic connections, delete them, edit them, and even replace them with new connections if you want. This chip will allow you to indicate the digital connections that you want on the FPGA. There are many users who may not want to keep logic ports while others may want to keep it. So, the flexibility of the FPGA makes it easy for all the users to chop and change the connections according to their requirement.
Newer developments facilitating FPGAs
Over the last few years, FPGAs have undergone a lot of changes that have made it accessible for everyone who knows how to use this chip. The new developments have certainly made FPGA more flexible than what it had been earlier. Here are some of the changes that you should know about:
- Stack chips to increase speed
There was always an issue with speed for most of the FPGAs but the recent developments have fixed that drawback to a great extent. The 2.5D or 3D chip-on-chip fixing technique has done wonders to the FPGAs. Now, instead of the signals having to travel through the wires and PCB and then getting transferred to the next chip, they will now travel directly from one chip to the next one at ultra-high speed and higher bandwidths. One of the changes that have worked like a miracle is the memory chip is now fixed onto the FPGA chip. This offers a very high memory speed. The DDR4 memory was considered the fastest to date but with the introduction of HMC memory, it has given DDR4 a run for its money. The HMC memory has the ability to use 70% lesser energy and is 15 times faster than DDR4.
After a lot of experimentation, FPGA has finally combined with SOC to make it accessible for everyone. Although the combination technique was used to some effect in FPGAs, there was no real option for adjusting the settings. FPGAs have always been able to process a large amount of data parallelly. Further, the processor would be able to provide random adjustments and that’s how it worked till now. But with the introduction of FPGA System on Chip (SoC), you can now program the processor and even implement a control system on it along with a program software. That is one big leap for developers because both high-end and low-end FPGAs will be benefited by this feature. Even the hardware processors that are now used in the low-end FPGAs are suitable for a desktop environment. You will also be able to create a processor with the FPGA code.
- Better accessible tools for larger target groups
Another drawback that developers found in FPGAs is the programming level. It was really tough to program this chip. But with the recent developments, the programming of the FPGAs has been simplified. The makers are now using a high-level programming language that has made FPGA, easier to use. Since two main companies are involved in the development of FPGAs, they had different approaches to make the programming level easier for this programmable chip. On the one hand, Altera used OpenCL that supported a huge number of companies, while on the other hand, Xilinx used Vivado HLS to simplify the programming language.
Parallel calculations on the graphic processors were a big part of FPGAs. Altera started using OpenCL because it assisted in executing these parallel calculations accurately. There is a bigger picture to this too. With improved parallel calculations, the energy consumed will be ten times lesser than a normal GPU. The Vivado HLS has a different approach to making FPGA more flexible. It is focused on how a software programmer would work. Software programmers have a basic knowledge of the architecture of the program. HLS will assist in making that architecture more lucid for the programmer so that he/she can go about making the necessary changes without having to focus on the programming of the FPGA.
The FPGA board is not the same as a computer program. Rather, it is a combination of programs that work together to make the chip work. This is one of the reasons why many industries refrained from using FPGA till now thinking that the chip will not be of any use to them. But with FPAG concentrating more on software programming, it has made life easier for all the developers working for different industries. The FPGA chip is now globally accepted because of its user-friendliness. One of the tricks that worked with the FPGA is that even though it followed the same trend as the other chips in the industry, the FPGA continued to have its own dynamism. This helped to lower the overall cost and make the other developments look bigger and better than the other chips.
The developments made in the FPGAs were a long time coming. Developers can now use FPGAs according to the gadget they are using, and this is a huge benefit to any industry.