FPGAs + Multicore CPUs: Not for all Embedded Designs

April 15th, 2013 by

By Andy The

I ran across this interesting article from EDN that discusses how FPGAs and multicore CPUs are impacting embedded designs.

While I agree that multicore CPUs significantly impact today’sembedded designs, for complexity and cost reasons I don’t agree that FPGAs are comparable in impact.

I say this because most embedded designers favor commercial off the shelf (CTOS) hardware to lower costs and more standard tooling for ease of development.  Also, FPGAs, because they are so scalable in size and price, often require custom hardware boards.  Also, while there has been good advancement is C-to-Gates compilers, Verilog and VHDL is still the main language for programming FPGAs and this requires specialized tool sets and skills.

Certainly FPGAs + multicore CPUs definitely have a place in embedded designs, but mostly in the higher-end systems that demand performance over all else and are not cost constrained. Freedom to use specialized hardware boards and software can accelerate the all-important time to market.

In more established markets –  Industrial Automation for example –  reducing the bill of materials is a high priority because of fierce competition and smaller margins.  While new features are always in demand, there is always a fine balance between build costs and functionality.  In these types of markets,multicore CPUs are in demand because of their availability on standard COTS hardware and standard easy to use tooling.  FPGAs are just too complex and expensive to justify the added flexibility in these more established and competitive markets.

In short, higher volume markets, like Industrial Automation, don’t have the patience or the budgets for FPGA  based designs.


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