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Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) have become an extremely popular implementation technology for custom hardware because they offer a combination of low cost and very fast turnaround. Because of their in-system reconfigurability, FPGAs have also been suggested as an efficient replacement for application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) and digital signal processors (DSPs) for applications that require a combination of high performance, low cost, and flexibility. Unfortunately, the use of FPGAs in mobile embedded systems platforms is hampered by the very large overhead of FPGA-based architectures. Coarse-grained configurable architectures can reduce this overhead substantially by taking advantage of the application domain to specialize the reconfigurable architecture via coarse-grained components and interconnects. This paper presents the design and implementation of an OFDM receiver in the RaPiD reconfigurable architecture as a case study for comparing the relative cost and performance of ASIC, DSP, FPGA, and coarse-grained reconfigurable architectures. RaPiD is a coarse-grained reconfigurable architecture specialized to the domain of signal and image processing. The RaPiD architecture provides a reconfigurable pipelined datapath controlled by efficient reconfigurable control logic: We have implemented the computationally intensive parts of an OFDM receiver on the RaPiD architecture and have developed careful estimates of corresponding implementations in representative ASIC, DSP and FPGA technology. Our results show that, for this application, RaPiD fills the cost/performance gap between programmable DSP and ASIC architectures, achieving a factor of 6 better than a DSP implementation but a factor of 6 less than an ASIC implementation.
Date of Publication: Nov. 2004