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Enhancing the Area Efficiency of FPGAs With Hard Circuits Using Shadow Clusters

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2 Author(s)
Jamieson, P.A. ; Edward S. Rogers Sr. Dept. of Electr. & Comput. Eng., Univ. of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada ; Rose, J.

There is a dramatic logic density gap between field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and application-specific integrated circuits, and this gap is the main reason FPGAs are not cost-effective in high-volume applications. Modern FPGAs narrow this gap by including “hard” circuits such as memories and multipliers, which are very efficient when they are used. However, if these hard circuits are not used, they go wasted (including the very expensive programmable routing that surrounds the logic), and have a negative impact on logic density. In this paper, we present an architectural concept, called shadow clusters, which seeks to mitigate this loss. A shadow cluster is a standard FPGA logic “cluster” (typically consisting of a group of lookup tables and flip-flops) that is placed “behind” every hard circuit, and can programmably, through simple, small multiplexers, replace the hard circuit in the event it is not needed. A shadow cluster is effective because the largest area cost, by far, in an FPGA is for the programmable routing that connects the logic. The shadow cluster area cost is small, and yet it enables more consistent employment of the programmable routing across applications with varying demand for hard circuits. We introduce new terminology to describe the economics of hard circuits on FGPAs, and provide a scientific way to measure the area effectiveness. We measure the area efficiency of FPGAs with and without shadow clusters, and show that a modern commercial architecture (with a fixed ratio of multipliers to soft logic) would gain 4.7% in area efficiency by employing shadow clusters. Indeed, every architecture we studied under “reasonable” conditions never showed a loss of area efficiency. Furthermore, we show that most area-efficient architecture that employs the shadow cluster concept is 12.5% better than the most area-efficient architecture without shadow clusters.

Published in:

Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Systems, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:18 ,  Issue: 12 )

Date of Publication:

Dec. 2010

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