Xilinx X-Fest 2012 in Oslo – time for Zynq


X-Fest logo

Oslo is always a good and familiar place to visit, especially if it means bumping into some old friends from the FPGA world and making a few new ones on a Xilinx X-Fest. The one we attended was held in Sandvika in suburban Oslo on May 8, but you can still participate in several other places around Europe and the world if you wish – check the event website!

This year, X-Fest is dominated by the new Cortex-A9+FPGA hybrid – Zynq, with one track and most exhibitor’s booths dedicated exclusively to this technology. And rightly so!

The “Processing System + Programmable Logic” combination, a dual-core general-purpose CPU with the ability to delegate tasks which are computationally heavy and prone to parallelising onto a dedicated block synthesised within the FPGA is just brilliant. Sure, not all applications will benefit from this, but if you know what you are doing and are able to identify bottlenecks in your product, you can get your software to run some 10x faster.

Zynq logo

It’ll be good to verify this claim in practice – after all, ground-breaking technologies are more often announced than functional – but this time it looks that Xilinx’s has really done a good job. There are limitations such as power-up time or the speed of the CPU (the dual-core Cortex-A9 is clocked only around 600 MHz for now, 800 MHz in future chips) but none of them seem to be deal-breakers.

We will see if the tools available allow the ecosystem to suck up ‘traditional’ software developers in addition to the FPGA guys, but it seems that Xilinx is aware of the fact that SW engineers require a different approach and are working with ARM provide tools necessary to facilitate the transfer from plain-ol’ CPU systems to a CPU+FPGA hybrid.

We have already been running the Zynq QEMU port out of curiosity, but this of course gives little feel of what the real stuff behaves like. However, with a bit of luck we will get our hands on physical modules as early as in June.

Follow our blog where we will describe our work with the Zynq technology and our thoughts on how useful it really is in practice. If you have ideas on how your applications can benefit from using Zynq or want to ask a question about it, be sure to leave a comment!