Embedded Real-Time DSP at the Intersection of FPGA and GPU

The convergence of two Digital Signal Processing (DSP) platforms, FPGA’s and GPU’s, is the heart of Sheldon Instruments’ new DSP boards. It combines the high signal processing power of both platforms, the real-time performance and multiple connectivity of FPGA’s, and the ease of development effort and programmability of GPU’s. What is this wondrous signal processing device?

It is an old friend with a new look: a Texas Instruments C programmable floating point DSP. Texas Instruments has updated its floating point line of DSP’s with the Keystone System on Chip (SoC) featuring the C667x (1.25GHz) DSP core. These new Keystone SoC’s are the centerpiece of Sheldon Instruments’ new line of Small Form Factor (SFF) DSP boards. The performance of these DSP’s is phenomenal at 320 GMAC and 160 GFLOP with just 10 watts of power consumption. The Keystone SoC provides a number of connectivity options:

  • PCIe x2 Gen 2.0,
  • Rapid IO x4 rev. 2.1,
  • Tri-Speed Ethernet
  • USB

The memory system in the Keystone is a combination of configurable per core L1 and L2 SRAM/Cache, shared SRAM and a 64-bit 1333Mhz DDR3 interface. Connectivity between all the C667x DSP cores, memory and peripherals is carried out seamlessly and without effort by the TeraNet, a non-blocking switch fabric enabling fast and contention-free internal data movement.

The board’s performance fits what you would need in most applications, but has broader commercial applicability, unlike the competition. The DSP’s unit cost is generally less than an FPGA but the largest savings is in the reduction of development cost and time to market. Using our board with the Keystone SoC is the simplest way to diminish the time required to develop, test and deploy a complex real-time embedded algorithm than it would be with an FPGA.

Don’t get me wrong, we use FPGA’s too and we like them for all the same reasons everyone else does.  We feel they have their place and that is why we have the option to include either an Altera Cyclone V or Arria V on our Keystone DSP boards. But they are seen as a co-processor connected to the Keystone DSP through the Rapid IO port, for which we provide IP and examples. It’s best to minimize the need for the FPGA as much as possible, thereby reducing development time and cost. We try to implement as much of the algorithm as we can in the DSP and only use the FPGA for the part (if there is one) for which it is best suited.

This simplicity in design swings open the door to new market segments. One particular segment that we at Sheldon Instruments are very excited about is embedded real-time image processing. Before, if you wanted to implement a complex image processing algorithm you would need to use a PC and GPU. However with a PC and GPU configuration you might not achieve real-time performance, and it would definitely exclude you from Small Form Factor while requiring at least 250 watts to power the system. Of course to ensure real-time performance in a Small Form Factor low power system, you could use an FPGA. But if your algorithm is quite complex implementing it in an FPGA in a timely and cost sensitive manner is out of the question. With our Keystone DSP boards you get the complex image processing capability, easy development capability of being able to program with the C language, the low 10 watt power consumption, and real-time performance.

These are not just concepts as we have implemented them in custom projects and in our support software. Which we developed for the image processing community to leverage in their designs using our DSP boards, so they can be up and running even faster. We have made 2D FFT’s and filters, and we are working on connectivity to GigE Vision enabled cameras to our boards through Ethernet.

Anyone who needs embedded real-time hardware, basically anywhere the FPGA is today, can use one of our Keystone DSP boards. The advantage being, of course, the reduced development time and cost on the DSP platform versus the FPGA. This makes good businesses sense because it results in a quicker time to market, a more cost effective product or development of a more complex algorithm.

If you have a project or design which you think might benefit from one of our Keystone DSP board offerings, contact us. We would be happy to discuss and assist with implementation ideas. We enjoy the myriad of applications our DSP products have been and can be used for. It is always exciting when our boards find a new home!

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