Chameleon Chips

Today’s microprocessors sport a general-purpose design which has its own advantages and disadvantages.  One chip can run a range of programs. That’s why you don’t need separate computers for different jobs, such as crunching spreadsheets or editing digital photos. For any one application, much of the chip’s circuitry isn’t needed, and the presence of those “wasted” circuits slows things down. Suppose, instead, that the chip’s circuits could be tailored specifically for the problem at hand say, computer-aided design and then rewired, on the fly, when you loaded a tax-preparation program.

One set of chips, little bigger than a credit card, could do almost anything, even changing into a wireless phone. The market for such versatile marvels would be huge, and would translate into lower costs for users. So computer scientists are hatching a novel concept that could increase number-crunching power–and trim costs as well. Call it the chameleon chip. Chameleon chips would be an extension of what can already be done with field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAS). An FPGA is covered with a grid of wires. At each crossover, there’s a switch that can be semipermanently opened or closed by sending it a special signal.

Usually the chip must first be inserted in a little box that sends the programming signals. But now, labs in Europe, Japan, and the U. S. are developing techniques to rewire FPGA-like chips anytime and even software that can map out circuitry that’s optimized for specific problems. The chips still won’t change colors. But they may well color the way we use computers in years to come. it is a fusion between custom integrated circuits and programmable logic. in the case when we are doing highly performance oriented tasks custom chips that do one or two things spectacularly rather than lot of things averagely is used.

Now using field programmed chips we have chips that can be rewired in an instant. Thus the benefits of customization can be brought to the mass market. A reconfigurable processor is a microprocessor with erasable hardware that can rewire itself dynamically. This allows the chip to adapt effectively to the programming tasks demanded by the particular software they are interfacing with at any given time. Ideally, the reconfigurable processor can transform itself from a video chip to a central processing unit (cpu) to a graphics chip, for example, all optimized to allow applications to run at the highest possible speed.

The new chips can be called a “chip on demand. ” In practical terms, this ability can translate to immense flexibility in terms of device functions. For example, a single device could serve as both a camera and a tape recorder (among numerous other possibilities): you would simply download the desired software and the processor would reconfigure itself to optimize performance for that function. Reconfigurable processors, competing in the market with traditional hard-wired chips and several types of programmable microprocessors.

Programmable chips have been in existence for over ten years. Digital signal processors (DSPs), for example, are high-performance programmable chips used in cell phones, automobiles, and various types of music players. Another version, programmable logic chips are equipped with arrays of memory cells that can be programmed to perform hardware functions using software tools. These are more flexible than the specialized DSP chips but also slower and more expensive. Hard-wired chips are the oldest, cheapest, and fastest – but also the least flexible – of all the options.

Highly flexible processors that can be reconfigured remotely in the field, Chameleon’s chips are designed to simplify communication system design while delivering increased price/performance numbers. The chameleon chip is a high bandwidth reconfigurable communications processor (RCP). it aims at changing a system’s design from a remote location. This will mean more versatile handhelds. Processors operate at 24,000 16-bit million operations per second (MOPS), 3,000 16-bit million multiply-accumulates per second (MMACS), and provide 50 channels of CDMA2000 chip-rate processing.

The 0. 25-micron chip, the CS2112 is an example. These new chips are able to rewire themselves on the fly to create the exact hardware needed to run a piece of software at the utmost speed. an example of such kind of a chip is a chameleon chip. this can also be called a “chip on demand” “Reconfigurable computing goes a step beyond programmable chips in the matter of flexibility. It is not only possible but relatively commonplace to “rewrite” the silicon so that it can perform new functions in a split second. Reconfigurable chips are simply the extreme end of programmability. ”

The overall performance of the ACM can surpass the DSP because the ACM only constructs the actual hardware needed to execute the software, whereas DSPs and microprocessors force the software to fit its given architecture. One reason that this type of versatility is not possible today is that handheld gadgets are typically built around highly optimized specialty chips that do one thing really well. These chips are fast and relatively cheap, but their circuits are literally written in stone  or at least in silicon. A multipurpose gadget would have to have many specialized chips  a costly and clumsy solution.

Alternately, you could use a general-purpose microprocessor, like the one in your PC, but that would be slow as well as expensive. For these reasons, chip designers are turning increasingly to reconfigurable hardware—integrated circuits where the architecture of the internal logic elements can be arranged and rearranged on the fly to fit particular applications. Designers of multimedia systems face three significant challenges in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace: Our products must do more, cost less, and be brought to the market quicker than ever.

Though each of these goals is individually attainable, the hat trick is generally unachievable with traditional design and implementation techniques. Fortunately, some new techniques are emerging from the study of reconfigurable computing that make it possible to design systems that satisfy all three requirements simultaneously. Although originally proposed in the late 1960s by a researcher at UCLA, reconfigurable computing is a relatively new field of study. The decades-long delay had mostly to do with a lack of acceptable reconfigurable hardware.

Reprogrammable logic chips like field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) have been around for many years, but these chips have only recently reached gate densities making them suitable for high-end applications. (The densest of the current FPGAs have approximately 100,000 reprogrammable logic gates. ) With an anticipated doubling of gate densities every 18 months, the situation will only become more favorable from this point forward. The primary product is a groundstation equipment for satellite communications.

This application involves high-rate communications, signal processing, and a variety of network protocols and data formats.  FPGA One of the most promising approaches in the realm of reconfigurable architecture is a technology called “field-programmable gate arrays. ” The strategy is to build uniform arrays of thousands of logic elements, each of which can take on the personality of different, fundamental components of digital circuitry; the switches and wires can be reprogrammed to operate in any desired pattern, effectively rewiring a chip’s circuitry on demand.

A designer can download a new wiring pattern and store it in the chip’s memory, where it can be easily accessed when needed. Not so hard after all Reconfigurable hardware first became practical with the introduction a few years ago of a device called a “field-programmable gate array” (FPGA) by Xilinx, an electronics company that is now based in San Jose, California. An FPGA is a chip consisting of a large number of “logic cells”. These cells, in turn, are sets of transistors wired together to perform simple logical operations.

Evolving FPGAs FPGAs are arrays of logic blocks that are strung together through software commands to implement higher-order logic functions. Logic blocks are similar to switches with multiple inputs and a single output, and are used in digital circuits to perform binary operations. Unlike with other integrated circuits, developers can alter both the logic functions performed within the blocks and the connections between the blocks of FPGAs by sending signals that have been programmed in software to the chip.

FPGA blocks can perform the same high-speed hardware functions as fixed-function ASICs, and to distinguish them from ASICs—they can be rewired and reprogrammed at any time from a remote location through software. Although it took several seconds or more to change connections in the earliest FPGAs, FPGAs today can be configured in milliseconds. Field-programmable gate arrays have historically been applied as what is called glue logic in embedded systems, connecting devices with dissimilar bus architectures.

They have often been used to link digital signal processors cpus used for digital signal processing to general-purpose cpus. The growth in FPGA technology has lifted the arrays beyond the simple role of providing glue logic. With their current capabilities, they clearly now can be classed as system-level components just like cpus and DSPs. The largest of the FPGA devices made by the company with which one of the authors of this article is affiliated, for example, has more than 150 billion transistors, seven times more than a Pentium-class microprocessor.

Given today’s time-to-market pressures, it is increasingly critical that all system-level components be easy to integrate, especially since the phase involving the integration of multiple technologies has become the most time-consuming part of a product’s development cycle. To Integrating Hardware and Software systems designers producing mixed cpu and FPGA designs can take advantage of deterministic real-time operating systems (RTOSs). Deterministic software is suited for controlling hardware. As such, it can be used to efficiently manage the content of system data and the flow of such data from a cpu to an FPGA.

FPGA developers can work with RTOS suppliers to facilitate the design and deployment of systems using combinations of the two technologies. FPGAs operating in conjunction with embedded design tools provide an ideal platform for developing high-performance reconfigurable computing solutions for medical instrument applications. The platform supports the design, development, and testing of embedded systems based on the C language. Integration of FPGA technology into systems using a deterministic RTOS can be streamlined by means of an enhanced application programming interface (API).

The blending of hardware, firmware, application software, and an RTOS into a platform-based approach removes many of the development barriers that still limit the functionality of embedded applications. Development, profiling, and analysis tools are available that can be used to analyze computational hot spots in code and to perform low-level timing analysis in multitasking environments. One way developers can use these analytical tools is to determine when to design a function in hardware or software. Profiling enables them to quickly identify functionality that is frequently used or computationally intensive.

Such functions may be prime candidates for moving from software to FPGA hardware. An integrated suite of run-time analysis tools with a run-time error checker and visual interactive profiler can help developers create higher-quality, higher-performance code in little time. An FPGA consists of an array of configurable logic blocks that implement the logical functions. In FPGA’s, the logic functions performed within the logic blocks, and sending signals to the chip can alter the connections between the blocks.

These blocks are similar in structure to the gate arrays used in some ASIC’s, but whereas standard gate arrays are configured and fixed during manufacture, the configurable logic blocks in new FPGA’s can be rewired and reprogrammed repeatedly in around a microsecond. One advantages of FPGA is that it needs small time to market Flexibility and Upgrade advantages Cheap to make . We can configure an FPGA using Very High Density Language [VHDL] Handel C Java . FPGA’s are used presently in Encryption Image Processing Mobile Communications . FPGA’s can be used in 4G mobile communication

The advantages of FPGAs are that Field programmable gate arrays offer companies the possibility of develloping a chip very quickly, since a chip can be configured by software. A chip can also be reconfigured, either during execution time, or as part of an upgrade to allow new applications, simply by loading new configuration into the chip. The advantages can be seen in terms of cost, speed and power consumption. The added functionality of multi-parallelism allows one FPGA to replace multiple ASIC’s. The applications of FPGA’s are in ? image processing ? encryption ? mobile communication memory management and digital signal processing ? telephone units ? mobile base stations. Although it is very hard to predict the direction this technology will take, it seems more than likely that future silicon chips will be a combination of programmable logic, memory blocks and specific function blocks, such as floating point units. It is hard to predict at this early stage, but it looks likely that the technology will have to change over the coming years, and the rate of change for major players in todays marketplace such as Intel, Microsoft and AMD will be crucial to their survival.

The precise behaviour of each cell is determined by loading a string of numbers into a memory underneath it. The way in which the cells are interconnected is specified by loading another set of numbers into the chip. Change the first set of numbers and you change what the cells do. Change the second set and you change the way they are linked up. Since even the most complex chip is, at its heart, nothing more than a bunch of interlinked logic circuits, an FPGA can be programmed to do almost anything that a conventional fixed piece of logic circuitry can do, just by loading the right numbers into its memory.

And by loading in a different set of numbers, it can be reconfigured in the twinkling of an eye. Basic reconfigurable circuits already play a huge role in telecommunications. For instance, relatively simple versions made by companies such as Xilinx and Altera are widely used for network routers and switches, enabling circuit designs to be easily updated electronically without replacing chips. In these early applications, however, the speed at which the chips reconfigure themselves is not critical.

To be quick enough for personal information devices, the chips will need to completely reconfigure themselves in a millisecond or less. “That kind of chameleon device would be the killer app of reconfigurable computing” These experts predict that in the next couple of years reconfigurable systems will be used in cell phones to handle things like changes in telecommunications systems or standards as users travel between calling regions — or between countries.

As it is getting more expensive and difficult to pattern, or etch, the elaborate circuitry used in microprocessors; many experts have predicted that maintaining the current rate of putting more circuits into ever smaller spaces will, sometime in the next 10 to 15 years, result in features on microchips no bigger than a few atoms, which would demand a nearly impossible level of precision in fabricating circuitry But reconfigurable chips don’t need that type of precision and we can make computers that function at the nanoscale level.

CS2112 (a reconfigurable processor developed by chameleon systems) RCP architecture is designed to be as flexible as an FPGA, and as easy to program as a digital signal processor (DSP), with real-time, visual debugging capability. The development environment, comprising Chameleon’s C-SIDE software tool suite and CT2112SDM development kit, enables customers to develop and debug communication and signal processing systems running on the RCP.

The RCP’s development environment helps overcome a fundamental design and debug challenge facing communication system designers. In order to build sufficient performance, channel capacity, and flexibility into their systems, today’s designers have been forced to employ an amalgamation of DSPs, FPGAs and ASICs, each of which requires a unique design and debug environment.

The RCP platform was designed from the ground up to alleviate this problem: first by significantly exceeding the performance and channel capacity of the fastest DSPs; second by integrating a complete SoC subsystem, including an embedded microprocessor, PCI core, DMA function, and high-speed bus; and third by consolidating the design and debug environment into a single platform-based design system that affords the designer comprehensive visibility and control.

The C-SIDE software suite includes tools used to compile C and assembly code for execution on the CS2112’s embedded microprocessor, and Verilog simulation and synthesis tools used to create parallel datapath kernels which run on the CS2112’s reconfigurable processing fabric. In addition to code generation tools, the package contains source-level debugging tools that support simulation and real-time debugging. Chameleon’s design approach leverages the methods employed by most of today’s communications system designers.

The designer starts with a C program that models signal processing functions of the baseband system. Having identified the dataflow intensive functional blocks, the designer implements them in the RCP to accelerate them by 10- to 100-fold. The designer creates equivalent functions for those blocks, called kernels, in Chameleon’s reconfigurable assembly language-like design entry language. The assembler then automatically generates standard Verilog for these kernels that the designer can verify with commercial Verilog simulators.

Using these tools, the designer can compare testbench results for the original C functions with similar results for the Verilog kernels. In the next phase, the designer synthesises the Verilog kernels using Chameleon’s synthesis tools targeting Chameleon technology. At the end, the tools output a bit file that is used to configure the RCP. The designer then integrates the application level C code with Verilog kernels and the rest of the standard C function. Chameleon’s C-SIDE compiler and linker technology makes this integration step transparent to the designer.

The CS2112 development environment makes all chip registers and memory locations accessible through a development console that enables full processor-like debugging, including features like single-stepping and setting breakpoints. Before actually productising the system, the designer must often perform a system-level simulation of the data flow within the context of the overall system. Chameleon’s development board enables the designer to connect multiple RCPs to other devices in the system using the PCI bus and/or programmable I/O pins.

This helps prove the design concept, and enables the designer to profile the performance of the whole basestation system in a real-world environment. With telecommunications OEMs facing shrinking product life cycles and increasing market pressures, not to mention the constant flux of protocols and standards, it’s more necessary than ever to have a platform that’s reconfigurable. This is where the chameleon chips are going to make its effect felt. “Traditional solutions such as FPGAs and DSPs lack the performance for high-bandwidth applications, and fixed function solutions like ASICs incur unacceptable limits Each product in the CS2000 family has the same fundamental functional blocks: a 32-bit RISC processor, a full-featured memory controller, a PCI controller, and a reconfigurable processing fabric, all of which are interconnected by a high-speed system bus.

The above mentioned fabric comprises an array of reconfigurable tiles used to implement the desired algorithms. Each tile contains seven 32-bit reconfigurable datapath units, four blocks of local store memory, two 16×24-bit multipliers, and a control logic unit. The C-SIDE design system is a fully integrated tool suite, with C compiler, Verilog synthesizer, full-chip simulator, as well as a debug and verification environment — an element not readily found in ASIC and FPGA design flows, according to Chameleon. Still, reconfigurable chips represent an attempt to combine the best features of hard-wired custom chips, which are fast and cheap, and programmable logic device (PLD) chips, which are flexible and easily brought to market.

Unlike PLDs, QuickSilver’s reconfigurable chips can be reprogrammed every few nanoseconds, rewiring circuits so they are processing global positioning satellite signals one moment or CDMA cellular signals the next, Think of the chips as consisting of libraries with preset hardware designs and chalkboards. Upon receiving instructions from software, the chip takes a hardware component from the library (which is stored as software in memory) and puts it on the chalkboard (the chip). The chip wires itself instantly to run the software and dispatches it.

The hardware can then be erased for the next cycle. With this style of computing, its chips can operate 80 times as fast as a custom chip but still consume less power and board space, which translates into lower costs. The company believes that “soft silicon,” or chips that can be reconfigured on the fly, can be the heart of multifunction camcorders or digital television sets. With programmable logic devices, designers use inexpensive software tools to quickly develop, simulate, and test their designs. Then, a design can be quickly programmed into a device, and immediately tested in a live circuit.

The PLD that is used for this prototyping is the exact same PLD that will be used in the final production of a piece of end equipment, such as a network router, a DSL modem, a DVD player, or an automotive navigation system. The two major types of programmable logic devices are field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and complex programmable logic devices (CPLDs). Of the two, FPGAs offer the highest amount of logic density, the most features, and the highest performance FPGAs are used in a wide variety of applications ranging from data processing and storage, to instrumentation, telecommunications, and digital signal processing.

To overcome these limitations and offer a flexible, cost-effective solution, many new entrants to the DSP market are extolling the virtues of configurable and reconfigurable DSP designs. This latest breed of DSP architectures promises greater flexibility to quickly adapt to numerous and fast-changing standards. Plus, they claim to achieve higher performance without adding silicon area, cost, design time, or power consumption. In essence, because the architecture isn’t rigid, the reconfigurable DSP lets the developer tailor the hardware for a specific task, achieving the right size and cost for the target application.

Moreover, the same platform can be reused for other applications. Because development tools are a critical part of this solution in fact, they’re true enablers the newcomers also ensure that the tools are robust and tightly linked to the devices’ flexible architectures. While providing an intuitive, integrated development environment for the designers, the manufacturers ensure affordability as well. Some of the new configurable DSP architectures are reconfigurable too that is, developers can modify their landscape on the fly, depending on the incoming data stream.

This capability permits dynamic reconfigurability of the architecture as demanded by the application. Proponents of such chips are proclaiming an era of “chip-on-demand,” wherein new algorithms can be accommodated on-chip in real time via software. This eliminates the cumbersome job of fitting the latest algorithms and protocols into existing rigid hardware. A reconfigurable communications processor (RCP) can reconfigured for different processing algorithms in one clock cycle. Chameleon designers are revising the architecture to create a chip that can address a much broader range of applications.

Plus, the supplier is preparing a new, more user-friendly suite of tools for traditional DSP designers. Thus, the company is dropping the term reconfigurability for the new architecture and going with a more traditional name, the streaming data processor (SDP). Though the SDP will include a reconfigurable processing fabric, it will be substantially altered, the company says. Unlike the older RCP, the new chip won’t have the ARM RISC core, and it will support a much higher clock rate. Additionally, it will be implemented in a 0. 13-µm CMOS process to meet the signal processing needs of a much broader market.

Further details await the release of SDP sometime in the first quarter of 2003. While Chameleon is in the redesign mode, QuickSilver Technologies is in the test mode. This reconfigurable proponent, which prefers to call its architecture an adaptive computing machine or ACM, has realized its first silicon test chip. In fact, the tests indicate that it outperforms a hardwired, fixed-function ASIC in processing compute-intensive cdma2000 algorithms, like system acquisition, rake finger, and set maintenance. For example, the ASIC’s nominal speed for searching 215 phase offsets in a basic multipath search algorithm is 3. seconds. The ACM test chip took just one second at a 25-MHz clock speed to perform the same number of searches in a cdma2000 handset. Likewise, the device accomplishes over 57,000 adaptations per second in rake-finger operation to cycle through all operations in this application every 52 µs (Fig. 1). In the set-maintenance application, the chip is almost three times faster than an ASIC, claims QuickSilver. THE power of a computer stems from the fact that its behaviour can be changed with little more than a dose of new software.

A desktop PC might, for example, be browsing the Internet one minute, and running a spreadsheet or entering the virtual world of a computer game the next. But the ability of a microprocessor (the chip that is at the heart of any PC) to handle such a variety of tasks is both a strength and a weakness because hardware dedicated to a particular job can do things so much faster. Recognising this, the designers of modern PCs often hand over such tasks as processing 3-D graphics, decoding and playing movies, and processing sound things that could, in theory, be done by the basic microprocessor to specialist chips.

These chips are designed to do their particular jobs extremely fast, but they are inflexible in comparison with a microprocessor, which does its best to be a jack-of-all-trades. So the hardware approach is faster, but using software is more flexible. At the moment, such reconfigurable chips are used mainly as a way of conjuring up specialist hardware in a hurry. Rather than designing and building an entirely new chip to carry out a particular function, a circuit designer can use an FPGA instead. This speeds up the design process enormously, because making changes becomes as simple as downloading a new configuration into the chip.

Chameleon Systems also develops reconfigurable chips for the high-end telecom-switching market. A reconfigurable processor is a microprocessor with erasable hardware that can rewire itself dynamically. This allows the chip to adapt effectively to the programming tasks demanded by the particular software they are interfacing with at any given time. Ideally, the reconfigurable processor can transform itself from a video chip to a central processing unit (cpu) to a graphics chip, for example, all optimized to allow applications to run at the highest possible speed.

The new chips can be called a “chip on demand. ” In practical terms, this ability can translate to immense flexibility in terms of device functions. For example, a single device could serve as both a camera and a tape recorder (among numerous other possibilities): you would simply download the desired software and the processor would reconfigure itself to optimize performance for that function. Reconfigurable processors, competing in the market with traditional hard-wired chips and several types of programmable microprocessors. Programmable chips have been in existence for over ten years.

Digital signal processors (DSPs), for example, are high-performance programmable chips used in cell phones, automobiles, and various types of music players. While microprocessors have been the dominant devices in use for general-purpose computing for the last decade, there is still a large gap between the computational efficiency of microprocessors and custom silicon. Reconfigurable devices, such as FPGAs, have come closer to closing that gap, offering a 10x benefit in computational density over microprocessors, and often offering another potential 10x improvement in yielded functional density on low granularity operations.

On highly regular computations, reconfigurable architectures have a clear superiority to traditional processor architectures. On tasks with high functional diversity, microprocessors use silicon more efficiently than reconfigurable devices. The BRASS project is developing a coupled architecture which allow a reconfigurable array and processor core to cooperate efficiently on computational tasks, exploiting the strengths of both architectures. We are developing an architecture and a prototype component that will combine a processor and a high performance reconfigurable array on a single chip.

The reconfigurable array extends the usefulness and efficiency of the processor by providing the means to tailor its circuits for special tasks. The processor improves the efficiency of the reconfigurable array for irregular, general-purpose computation. We anticipate that a processor combined with reconfigurable resources can achieve a significant performance improvement over either a separate processor or a separate reconfigurable device on an interesting range of problems drawn from embedded computing applications. As such, we hope to demonstrate that this composite device is an ideal system element for embedded processing.

Reconfigurable devices have proven extremely efficient for certain types of processing tasks. The key to their cost/performance advantage is that conventional processors are often limited by instruction bandwidth and execution restrictions or by an insufficient number or type of functional units. Reconfigurable logic exploits more program parallelism. By dedicating significantly less instruction memory per active computing element, reconfigurable devices achieve a 10x improvement in functional density over microprocessors.

At the same time this lower memory ratio allows reconfigurable devices to deploy active capacity at a finer grained level, allowing them to realize a higher yield of their raw capacity, sometimes as much as 10x, than conventional processors. The high functional density characteristic of reconfigurable devices comes at the expense of the high functional diversity characteristic of microprocessors. Microprocessors have evolved to a highly optimized configuration with clear cost/performance advantages over reconfigurable arrays for a large set of tasks with high functional diversity.

By combining a reconfigurable array with a processing core we hope to achieve the best of both worlds. While it is possible to combine a conventional processor with commercial reconfigurable devices at the circuit board level, integration radically changes the i/o costs and design point for both devices, resulting in a qualitatively different system. Notably, the lower on-chip communication costs allow efficient cooperation between the processor and array at a finer grain than is sensible with discrete designs.

When we talk about reconfigurable computing we’re usually talking about FPGA-based system designs. Unfortunately, that doesn’t qualify the term precisely enough. System designers use FPGAs in many different ways. The most common use of an FPGA is for prototyping the design of an ASIC. In this scenario, the FPGA is present only on the prototype hardware and is replaced by the corresponding ASIC in the final production system. This use of FPGAs has nothing to do with reconfigurable computing. However, many system designers are choosing to leave the FPGAs as part of the production hardware.

Lower FPGA prices and higher gate counts have helped drive this change. Such systems retain the execution speed of dedicated hardware but also have a great deal of functional flexibility. The logic within the FPGA can be changed if or when it is necessary, which has many advantages. For example, hardware bug fixes and upgrades can be administered as easily as their software counterparts. In order to support a new version of a network protocol, you can redesign the internal logic of the FPGA and send the enhancement to the affected customers by email.

Once they’ve downloaded the new logic design to the system and restarted it, they’ll be able to use the new version of the protocol. This is configurable computing; reconfigurable computing goes one step further. Reconfigurable computing involves manipulation of the logic within the FPGA at run-time. In other words, the design of the hardware may change in response to the demands placed upon the system while it is running. Here, the FPGA acts as an execution engine for a variety of different hardware functions  some executing in parallel, others in serial  much as a CPU acts as an execution engine for a variety of software threads.

We might even go so far as to call the FPGA a reconfigurable processing unit (RPU). Reconfigurable computing allows system designers to execute more hardware than they have gates to fit, which works especially well when there are parts of the hardware that are occasionally idle. One theoretical application is a smart cellular phone that supports multiple communication and data protocols, though just one a time. When the phone passes from a geographic region that is served by one protocol into a region that is served by another, the hardware is automatically reconfigured.

This is reconfigurable computing at its best, and using this approach it is possible to design systems that do more, cost less, and have shorter design and implementation cycles. Reconfigurable computing has several advantages. ? First, it is possible to achieve greater functionality with a simpler hardware design. Because not all of the logic must be present in the FPGA at all times, the cost of supporting additional features is reduced to the cost of the memory required to store the logic design. Consider again the multiprotocol cellular phone.

It would be possible to support as many protocols as could be fit into the available on-board ROM. It is even conceivable that new protocols could be uploaded from a base station to the handheld phone on an as-needed basis, thus requiring no additional memory. ? The second advantage is lower system cost, which does not manifest itself exactly as you might expect. On a low-volume product, there will be some production cost savings, which result from the elimination of the expense of ASIC design and fabrication.

However, for higher-volume products, the production cost of fixed hardware may actually be lower. We have to think in terms of lifetime system costs to see the savings. Systems based on reconfigurable computing are upgradable in the field. Such changes extend the useful life of the system, thus reducing lifetime costs. ? The final advantage of reconfigurable computing is reduced time-to-market. The fact that you’re no longer using an ASIC is a big help in this respect. There are no chip design and prototyping cycles, which eliminates a large amount of development effort.

In addition, the logic design remains flexible right up until (and even after) the product ships. This allows an incremental design flow, a luxury not typically available to hardware designers. You can even ship a product that meets the minimum requirements and add features after deployment. In the case of a networked product like a set-top box or cellular telephone, it may even be possible to make such enhancements without customer involvement. Traditional FPGAs are configurable, but not run-time reconfigurable.

Many of the older FPGAs expect to read their configuration out of a serial EEPROM, one bit at a time. And they can only be made to do so by asserting a chip reset signal. This means that the FPGA must be reprogrammed in its entirety and that its previous internal state cannot be captured beforehand. Though these features are compatible with configurable computing applications, they are not sufficient for reconfigurable computing. In order to benefit from run-time reconfiguration, it is necessary that the FPGAs involved have some or all of the following features.

The more of these features they have, the more flexible can be the system design. Deciding which hardware objects to execute and when Swapping hardware objects into and out of the reconfigurable logic Performing routing between hardware objects or between hardware objects and the hardware object framework. Of course, having software manage the reconfigurable hardware usually means having an embedded processor or microcontroller on-board. (We expect several vendors to introduce single-chip solutions that combine a CPU core and a block of reconfigurable logic by year’s end. The embedded software that runs there is called the run-time environment and is analogous to the operating system that manages the execution of multiple software threads. Like threads, hardware objects may have priorities, deadlines, and contexts, etc. It is the job of the run-time environment to organize this information and make decisions based upon it. The reason we need a run-time environment at all is that there are decisions to be made while the system is running. And as human designers, we are not available to make these decisions. So we impart these responsibilities to a piece of software.

This allows us to write our application software at a very high level of abstraction. To do this, the run-time environment must first locate space within the RPU that is large enough to execute the given hardware object. It must then perform the necessary routing between the hardware object’s inputs and outputs and the blocks of memory reserved for each data stream. Next, it must stop the appropriate clock, reprogram the internal logic, and restart the RPU. Once the object starts to execute, the run-time environment must continuously monitor the hardware object’s status flags to determine when it is done executing.

Once it is done, the caller can be notified and given the results. The run-time environment is then free to reclaim the reconfigurable logic gates that were taken up by that hardware object and to wait for additional requests to arrive from the application software. The principal benefits of reconfigurable computing are the ability to execute larger hardware designs with fewer gates and to realize the flexibility of a software-based solution while retaining the execution speed of a more traditional, hardware-based approach. This makes doing more with less a reality.

In our own business we have seen tremendous cost savings, simply because our systems do not become obsolete as quickly as our competitors because reconfigurable computing enables the addition of new features in the field, allows rapid implementation of new standards and protocols on an as-needed basis, and protects their investment in computing hardware. Whether you do it for your customers or for yourselves, you should at least consider using reconfigurable computing in your next design. You may find, as we have, that the benefits far exceed the initial learning curve.

And as reconfigurable computing becomes more popular, these benefits will only increase.  The term reconfigurable computing has come to refer to a loose class of embedded systems. Many system-on-a-chip (SoC) computer designs provide reconfigurability options that provide the high performance of hardware with the flexibility of software. To most designers, SoC means encapsulating one or more processing elements that is, general-purpose embedded processors and/or digital signal processor (DSP) cores along with memory, input/output devices, and other hardware into a single chip. These versatile chips can erform many different functions. However, while SoCs offer choices, the user can choose only among functions that already reside inside the device. Developers also create ASICs chips that handle a limited set of tasks but do them very quickly. The limitation of most types of complex hardware devices SoCs, ASICs, and general-purpose cpus is that the logical hardware functions cannot be modified once the silicon design is complete and fabricated. Consequently, developers are typically forced to amortize the cost of SoCs and ASICs over a product lifetime that may be extremely short in today’s volatile technology environment.

Solutions involving combinations of cpus and FPGAs allow hardware functionality to be reprogrammed, even in deployed systems, and enable medical instrument OEMs to develop new platforms for applications that require rapid adaptation to input. The technologies combined provide the best of both worlds for system-level design. Careful analysis of computational requirements reveals that many algorithms are well suited to high-speed sequential processing, many can benefit from parallel processing capabilities, and many can be broken down into components that are split between the two.

With this in mind, it makes sense to always use the best technology for the job at hand. Processors are best suited to general-purpose processing and high-speed sequential processing (as are DSPs), while FPGAs excel at high-speed parallel processing. The general-purpose capability of the cpu enables it to perform system management very well, and allows it to be used to control the content of the FPGAs contained in the system.

This symbiotic relationship between cpus and FPGAs also means that the FPGA can off-load computationally intensive algorithms from the cpu, allowing the processor to spend more time working on general-purpose tasks such as data analysis, and more time communicating with a printer or other equipment. Conclusion These new chips called chameleon chips are able to rewire themselves on the fly to create the exact hardware needed to run a piece of software at the utmost speed. an example of such kind of a chip is a chameleon chip. his can also be called a “chip on demand” Reconfigurable computing goes a step beyond programmable chips in the matter of flexibility. It is not only possible but relatively commonplace to “rewrite” the silicon so that it can perform new functions in a split second. Reconfigurable chips are simply the extreme end of programmability. ” Highly flexible processors that can be reconfigured remotely in the field, Chameleon’s chips are designed to simplify communication system design while delivering increased price/performance numbers.

The chameleon chip is a high bandwidth reconfigurable communications processor (RCP). it aims at changing a system’s design from a remote location. this will mean more versatile handhelds. Its applications are in, data-intensive Internet,DSP,wireless basestations, voice compression, software-defined radio, high-performance embedded telecom and datacom applications, xDSL concentrators,fixed wireless local loop, multichannel voice compression, multiprotocol packet and cell processing protocols.

Its advantages are that it can create customized communications signal processors ,it has increased performance and channel count, and it can more quickly adapt to new requirements and standards and it has lower development costs and reduce risk. One day, someone will make a chip that does everything for the ultimate consumer device. The chip will be smart enough to be the brains of a cell phone that can transmit or receive calls anywhere in the world. If the reception is poor, the phone will automatically adjust so that the quality improves.

At the same time, the device will also serve as a handheld organizer and a player for music, videos, or games. Unfortunately, that chip doesn’t exist today. It would require

  • flexibility
  • high performance
  • low power
  •  low cost

But we might be getting closer. Now a new kind of chip may reshape the semiconductor landscape. The chip adapts to any programming task by effectively erasing its hardware design and regenerating new hardware that is perfectly suited to run the software at hand.

These chips, referred to as reconfigurable processors, could tilt the balance of power that has preserved a decade-long standoff between programmable chips and hard-wired custom chips. These new chips are able to rewire themselves on the fly to create the exact hardware needed to run a piece of software at the utmost speed. an example of such kind of a chip is a chameleon chip. this can also be called a “chip on demand” “Reconfigurable computing goes a step beyond programmable chips in the matter of flexibility.

It is not only possible but relatively commonplace to “rewrite” the silicon so that it can perform new functions in a split second. Reconfigurable chips are simply the extreme end of programmability. ” If these adaptable chips can reach a cost-performance parity with hard-wired chips, customers will chuck the static hard-wired solutions. And if silicon can indeed become dynamic, then so will the gadgets of the information age. No longer will you have to buy a camera and a tape recorder. You could just buy one gadget, and then download a new function for it when you want to take some pictures or make a recording.

Just think of the possibilities for the fickle consumer. Programmable logic chips, which are arrays of memory cells that can be programmed to perform hardware functions using software tools, are more flexible than DSP chips but slower and more expensive For consumers, this means that the day isn’t far away when a cell phone can be used to talk, transmit video images, connect to the Internet, maintain a calendar, and serve as entertainment during travel delays without the need to plug in adapter hardware.

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