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Embedded Processors on FPGA: Soft vs Hard
In the past, Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) were primarily used for prototyping and debugging purposes. However with their increased popularity, many commercial products now incorporate FPGAs. In the late 1990s, FPGA vendors introduced System-on-chip (SoC) devices that included one or more hard-core processors and an FPGA fabric on a single Integrated Circuit to allow for more complex designs that involved hardware and software co-integration. While this approach provides advantages of running your design at much higher speeds it does not provide the flexibility of modification to suit the application. Because of this many FPGA vendors provide the solution of using soft-core processors that is configured from logic resources inside the FPGA. Depending on several factors, a designer can choose either Hard or Soft processor in his design depending on the application.
This paper presents an in-depth performance analysis and direct one-on-one comparison between the two. For this task two different platforms, one housing a hardcore processor and another housing a soft-core processor is chosen to run a digital oscilloscope application. This is then used to measure the FPGA resource utilization, execution speed and power consumption on each.