There is a blurrier line between hardware and software engineering than it may seem. Also, devices referred to as FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays), whereby HDLs (hardware description languages) can manipulate its physical attributes, thereby bridging the gap between programming hardware and programming software.
However, the general thought is that FPGAs can only be programmed by hardware engineers. This is not the case anymore because of modern software platforms that are unified and plugged into well-known development tools so as to ensure a more accessible process of the Xilinx FPGA Programming.
Furthermore, it is also possible for the software developers to learn the steps in programming FPGAs. In this article, we’ll cover the FPGA basics. These include the way they work, as well as how to use them. Next, we will talk about the necessary tools for the designing and execution of your first-ever FPGA application.
What Does FPGA Mean?
FPGA is referred to as an IC (integrated circuit) that is equipped with CLBs (configurable logic blocks) as well as other features, which a user can program and reprogram. When we say “field reprogrammable” it means that the abilities of the FPGA are adjustable. Also, the manufacturer cannot hardwire them like similar integrated circuits.
FPGAs are categorized under PLDs (programmable logic devices). The main function of the FPGA technology works with the adaptive hardware that has the ability of modifying after manufacturing. You can connect hardware block arrays, each configurable, as you wish. This allows the building of domain-specific highly-architectures for any specific application.
How does Xilinx FPGA Programming Work?
HDL is useful in FPGA programming in manipulating circuits. This depends on the capabilities that you want your design to possess. This process is different from CPU or GPU programming because you will not be writing a program which runs sequentially. Instead, you’ll be making use of HDL in creating circuits, as well as physically changing the hardware. This depends on the functions you want it to perform.
This process is very similar to the programming software, whereby you write a specific code, which is then transformed into a specific binary file. This file is then loaded into the FPGA. However, the outcome indicates that the HDL will make some physical changes into the hardware, instead of the optimization of the device strictly to run the software.
Programs on the FPGA help in piecing together the lower-level elements such as memory blocks and logic gates that work to finish a task. Due to the fact that you will be manipulating that hardware from the scratch, FPGAs permit much flexibility. Also, it is possible to adjust the basic functions like power or memory usage, which depends on the task.
What Languages are Used in Programming FPGAs?
It may look like FPGAs majorly in the chip designer’s domain, instead of engineers specializing in the development of software. After all, the majority of HDLs useful in writing FPGA code are the lower-level languages that the hardware engineers know much more about than the software engineers.
The languages that are used with the software platforms in programming FPGAs, include the following
First, designers can make use of python languages as well as libraries in creating high-performance applications, as well as programs. FPGAs having PYNQ, which is a project (open-source) from Xilinx, which ensures easy use of the Xilinx platforms.
C and C++
Due to the HLS (high-level synthesis), the C-based languages will be useful in FPGA design. The Xilinx HLS compiler in particular, offers an environment for programming sharing major technology featuring both specialized and standard processors for optimizing C++ and C programs.
With this, software engineers will be able to optimize the code without having to handle the issue of computational resources or reduced memory space.
AI framework such as Pytorch and TensorFlow
With the Vitis AI, the AI scientists will be able to take the trained learning models directly from Pytorch or TensorFlow and then compile for the FPGA acceleration.
It doesn’t only get rid of the importance of low-level hardware programming. It also helps in ensuring a very fast compilation time that occurs in minutes. This matches the usual experience of software compiling making use of GPUs and CPUs.
Also, there are other mainstream HDLs mainly used in today’s FPGA programming. Below are other major attributes and names.
This is the first-ever HDL created. Today, it is majorly used for verification and test analysis. This language’s core is based on C.
This can also be called VHSIC (very high-speed integrated circuits). This language initially appeared back in the 80s. It was based off Pascal and Ada.
The language was specifically manufactured for the FPGAs, and it overcomes some pitfalls of archaic languages like Verilog.
Ways of Programming an FPGA
Although FPGAs have existed exclusively in the world of hardware engineers, the software programmers and AI scientists can access the new platforms, which make the entire process feel just like you are writing the software.
Possessing the right tools, it becomes possible to find answers for the programming of FPGAs, which meets you at that present hardware and software level of knowledge you have.
Furthermore, if you have become an expert in programming GPUs, there is a similar feeling when writing the FPGA code, even if there is a little different outcome. FPGA programming is made up of writing a code, and then translating the program in a lower-level language and converting this program in a binary file.
Next, you will feed this program into the FPGA the same way you will do for the GPU, while reading software that has been written in C++. However, to streamline the entire process of programming, there’s a need to have access to the appropriate platform. Fortunately, Xilinx features the best solution, which is a whole set of tools that can help the software developers in all the steps involved in the process of FPGA programming.
By now, you should have a good understanding of how Xilinx FPGA programming works. If there are some questions on your mind, please let us know.