Advantages of an FPGA embedded processor

An FPGA embedded processor system offers many exceptional advantages compared to typical
microprocessors including:

  • customization
  • obsolescence mitigation
  • component and cost reduction
  • hardware acceleration

Customization

The designer of an FPGA embedded processor system has complete flexibility to select any combination of
peripherals and controllers. In fact, the designer can invent new, unique peripherals that can be connected
directly to the processor’s bus. If a designer has a non-standard requirement for a peripheral set, this can be
met easily with an FPGA embedded processor system. For example, a designer would not easily find an
off-the-shelf processor with ten UARTs. However, in an FPGA, this configuration is very easily
accomplished.

Obsolescence mitigation

Some companies, in particular those supporting military contracts, have a design requirement to ensure a
product lifespan that is much longer than the lifespan of a standard electronics product. Component
obsolescence mitigation is a difficult issue. FPGA soft-processors are an excellent solution in this case
since the source HDL for the soft-processor can be purchased. Ownership of the processor’s HDL code
may fulfill the requirement for product lifespan guarantee.

Component and cost reduction

With the versatility of the FPGA, previous systems that required multiple components can be replaced with
a single FPGA. Certainly this is the case when an auxiliary I/O chip or a co-processor is required next to an
off-the-shelf processor. By reducing the component count in a design, a company can reduce board size
and inventory management, both of which will save design time and cost.

Hardware acceleration

Perhaps the most compelling reason to choose an FPGA embedded processor is the ability to make
tradeoffs between hardware and software to maximize efficiency and performance. If an algorithm is
identified as a software bottleneck, a custom co-processing engine can be designed in the FPGA specifically
for that algorithm. This co-processor can be attached to the FPGA embedded processor through special,
low-latency channels, and custom instructions can be defined to exercise the co-processor. With modern
FPGA hardware design tools, transitioning software bottlenecks from software to hardware is much easier
since the software C code can be readily adapted into hardware with only minor changes to the C code.

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