more embedded systems are built using FPGA platforms, there is an increasing need to support processors in FPGAs. One option is the soft processor, a programmable instruction processor implemented in the reconfigurable logic of the FPGA. Commercial soft processors have been widely deployed, and hence we are motivated to understand their microarchitecture. We must re-evaluate microarchiteture in the soft processor context because an FPGA platform is significantly different than an ASIC platform---for example, the relative speed of memory and logic is quite different in the two platforms, as is the area cost. In this paper we present an infrastructure for rapidly generating RTL models of soft processors, as well as a methodology for measuring their area, performance, and power. Using our automatically-generated soft processors we explore the microarchitecture trade-off space including: (i) hardware vs software multiplication support; (ii) shifter implementations; and (iii) pipeline depth, organization, and forwarding. For example, we find that a 3-stage pipeline has better wall-clock-time performance than deeper pipelines, despite lower clock frequency. We also compare our designs to Altera's NiosII commercial soft processor variations and find that our automatically generated designs span the design space while remaining very competitive.

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Published on 01/01/2005

Volume 2005, 2005
DOI: 10.1145/1086297.1086325
Licence: CC BY-NC-SA license

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