Benefits Adaptive SoCs Provide Over Traditional FPGAs

Benefits Adaptive SoCs Provide Over Traditional FPGAs

The sheer amount of sensor data consumed by modern embedded computing systems has necessitated a shift toward heterogeneous computing. Rather than do everything with a general purpose processor, FPGAs, GPUs and other special purpose processors can each complete tasks they are best suited for.

Current drawbacks to this approach can include the space consumed by individual boards or chips and the inefficiencies in interconnects between the special purpose chips. This is exactly why the new Xilinx® Versal® Adaptive System-on-Chip (ASoC) was created. These all-in-one ASoCs have taken a typical FPGA fabric and added an array of special purpose processing functions all in one package with a high performance interconnect known as a network on chip (NoC). In fact, all current chips in the 7nm Xilinx® Versal® family are ASoCs which demonstrates Xilinx’s dedication to this new computing paradigm.

So, what exactly is an ASoC and what benefits does it have over traditional FPGAs?

What Is an Adaptive System-on-Chip?

An Adaptive System-on-Chip — often referred to as Adaptive SoC, or ASoC — is a heterogeneous computing system-on-chip platform that includes a large FPGA fabric. In addition, there are general purpose and real-time ARM cores, scalar processors suited for artificial intelligence and machine learning math operations, and hard silicon IP blocks dedicated to common I/O functions. The hard silicon blocks include things like Ethernet interfaces, high-performance PCIe DMA, and DDR memory controllers. All of the special purpose processing elements in the ASoC are coupled with a high performing NoC and delivered in a single chip. Essentially, the ASoC provides many useful processing functions in a small area at a reduced power. This makes the ASoC an excellent choice for any embedded high-performance computing application.

Three major advantages of an Adaptive SoC platform:

There are three main reasons to choose an ASoC over a more traditional FPGA:

  • Size, Weight, and Power– Traditionally, tasks might require multiple chips to perform the same functions of an ASoC, and these might even be spread across multiple boards. With an ASoC, all the processing takes place within a single chip, with the NoC tightly coupling the processing elements together. In addition, moving common interface IP cores into hard silicon provides a more efficient, lower power design.
  • Commonly Used IP Now Offered in Hard Silicon– By providing IP Cores like Ethernet, PCIe DMA, and DDR memory controllers in hard silicon, more programmable logic resources are available for the user and the interface logic is more efficient. This lowers the power utilization.
  • Software Programmability– Xilinx® ASoC allows users to benefit from the latest software abstraction layers. This means users can deploy their algorithms and applications quickly and efficiently through standard software.
Image of two XILINX Versal Chips

Who Uses Adaptive SoCs?

Adaptive SoCs are used in any industry that requires high performance heterogeneous computing. They are especially well suited for small form factor applications at the edge with limited SWaP requirements. This can include 5G, AI (artificial intelligence), ML (machine-learning), and other sensor-processing applications. In today’s Military/Aerospace world, everything needs to be a mobile datacenter with the ability to process vast amounts of sensor data from multiple platforms in real-time. The Xilinx® ASoC is an ideal solution for these applications.

Even though the newest applications require this capability, they also need to communicate with older technology. The programmable logic in the ASoC makes it possible to upgrade this older tech with new equipment and capabilities while requiring no changes to the existing equipment on that platform. This allows for transparent high-bandwidth and low-latency functionality with new COTS equipment without needing to start from scratch.

How do Adaptive SoCs Affect the Future of FPGAs?

Many industries and applications already utilize FPGAs for their robust reliability, long life-spans, and superior ability to parallel process multiple tasks. FPGAs will remain a competitive processor option for the foreseeable future.

However, many users will appreciate the increased capabilities of the ASoC architecture with multiple processor functions in one package. The SWaP benefits of the ASoC will likely push many users down that path. The latest Versal® offering from Xilinx® shows their commitment to the heterogeneous computing architecture. Those at the bleeding edge of computing applications will benefit from the ASoCs smaller yet more powerful profile. Along with the advantages listed above, the ASoC lends itself to deeper implementation in compute-heavy applications where more than the standard FPGA is required.

Learn More About Adaptive SoCs & FPGAs With New Wave Design

Still have questions about ASoC vs FPGA board solutions, and how they can fit into your applications? Reach out below and we’ll be happy to discuss a solution for your requirements.

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