A Study of the Speedups and Competitiveness of FPGA Soft Processor Cores using Dynamic Hardware/Software Partitioning

Roman Lysecky, Frank Vahid

Field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) provide designers with the ability to quickly create hardware circuits. Increases in FPGA configurable logic capacity and decreasing FPGA costs have enabled designers to more readily incorporate FPGAs in their designs. FPGA vendors have begun providing configurable soft processor cores that can be synthesized onto their FPGA products. While FPGAs with soft processor cores provide designers with increased flexibility, such processors typically have degraded performance and energy consumption compared to hard-core processors. Previously, we proposed warp processing, a technique capable of optimizing a software application by dynamically and transparently re-implementing critical software kernels as custom circuits in on-chip configurable logic. In this paper, we study the potential of a MicroBlaze soft-core based warp processing system to eliminate the performance and energy overhead of a soft-core processor compared to a hard-core processor. We demonstrate that the soft-core based warp processor achieves average speedups of 5.8 and energy reductions of 57% compared to the soft core alone. Our data shows that a soft-core based warp processor yields performance and energy consumption competitive with existing hard-core processors, thus expanding the usefulness of soft processor cores on FPGAs to a broader range of applications.

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