Ron Huizen (BittWare VP of systems and solutions), recently wrote a two-part article for the US-based publication RTC magazine which is now available online.
OpenCL allows FPGAs to be programmed in a C-like language, opening them up to a much wider base of programmers, thus allowing them to be deployed in places that would normally be owned by CPUs and general purpose GPUs.
With their programmable hardware resources, FPGAs can be customised to a specific application and outperform central processing units (CPUs) and graphics processing units (GPUs) while using a fraction of the power.
The major issue with deploying FPGAs to a broader user base is their reliance on specialised programming languages known as hardware description languages (HDLs) such as VHDL and Verilog. While strong arguments can be made for their power efficiency and performance versus general purpose CPUs and GPUs, the pushback is always the same—the skill set needed to use them is too specialised and development cycles are way too long.
FPGAs continue to grow in size and capabilities with every new generation. For example, Altera's Stratix 10 family, based on 14 nm Intel technology, promise up to 4 million logic elements, built-in hardware support for floating point (10 TeraFLOPS), 56 Gbit/s transceivers and embedded ARM cores. While these FPGAs provide tremendous capabilities, the complexity of FPGA development still causes concern for those looking to deploy them in what are traditionally programmable processor (CPU, GPU, DSP) domains.
Part 1 of this explores how OpenCL allows FPGAs to be programmed in a C-like language, thus opening them up to a much wider base of programmers, and allowing them to be more readily deployed in places that have typically used CPUs and general purpose GPUs. Click here to read this article.
Part 2 of this article discusses how OpenCL for FPGA can be used to address more than just the CPU accelerator market by including extensions for streaming I/O, support for multiple FPGA systems, and by using embedded ARMs as the OpenCL host, allowing the benefits of FPGA technology to be brought to an even larger group of users. Click here to read this article.
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