Field-Programmable Gate Arrays and Green Technology

I find this blog on FPGAs (Field-programmable Gate Arrays) (http://blog.earthtron.com/5-intriguing-uses-of-fpga-in-green-technology) most intriguing based on the evolutionary progress of FPGAs.  I am not surprised at some of the applications in green technology because, as illustrated in a 2012 National Instruments white paper, the following benefits continue to propel the growth of FPGAs in electronic component testing industry.

  1. Performance-Utilizing the similarities between FPGAs and other hardware, FPGAs have increased their performance to outperform digital signal processors (DSPs). This is done by allowing for simultaneous procedures and increasing the output per a given amount of time.  All of this can be done at a lower cost than in DSPs*.  This is done by altering the hardware to allow increased control of the inputs and outputs (I/O).  In turn, this creates the ability to more closely match the constraints of the systems and decrease the systems’ response times.
  2. Time to market-The improved FPGAs drastically improve prototyping capability and speed. For example, the hardware allows for concepts to be analyzed prior to fabrication.  This lets the iterative design process be reduced to mere hours.  Different types of I/O hardware can also be purchased commercially (COTS) with an imbedded FPGA chip for user-programming.  This, along with prebuilt functions (IP cores) and higher-level software and teaching tools make advanced control and signal processing more accessible to less experienced users.
  3. Cost-Using FPGA hardware is much cheaper than using custom ASIC (Application-specific Integrated Circuit) designs. The ASIC expenses are unjustifiable for companies that use them for testing systems currently in development.  Using programmable silicone reduces costs to almost nil.  The FPGA is also cheaper than ASIC when used in systems with changing requirements.
  4. Reliability-FPGAs do not use operating systems. This reduces the layers of abstraction and issues with multitasking that occur in processor-based systems as well as removing the imbedded control of the memory and bandwidth.  FPGAs ultimately reduce the necessity of driver layers – who control hardware resources, – which in turn decreases the risk when trying to run several time critical tasks at once.  FPGAs, instead, run multiple tasks simultaneously with dedicated hardware for each task.
  5. Long-term maintenance-FPGA chips are also superior with respect to ASIC when it comes to forward compatibility and maintenance. FPGAs are field-upgradable, which can be beneficial in use with systems, like digital communications, whose protocols can change.  This allows the chips’ functions to be enhanced without needing to change the layout or hardware of the board.

*FPGAs for DSP (BDTI Industry Report), 2nd ed. (Berkeley Design Technology Inc., 2006)

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Author: josephfedericonj

Joseph Federico is Vice President and Director of Operations for NJ MET, Inc., located in Clifton, NJ. He speaks world-wide on current issues in Electronic Component Testing. Among his responsibilities at NJMET, Inc. is heading up its charity programs.

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