Reprogrammable Coprocessors For Any Opteron Server
April 24, 2006 2:40 AM
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The DRC module plugs directly into a Socket 940 AMD Opteron motherboard
DRC has announced its newest FPGA that drops into AMD's Socket 940
The Register has a fairly
in depth look
at one start-up's attempt to capitalize on AMD's HyperTransport interface -- a reprogrammable coprocessor that can drop into any Socket 940 socket. The company, DRC, built its programmable coprocessor on Xilinx Virtex4 field programmable gate array integrated circuits.
For specialized industries, a dynamic coprocessor is exactly what the doctor ordered; low overhead for extremely specific tasks such as vector math or collision detection. Companies already pay thousands to millions of dollars to have such overly specific algorithms ported to custom FPGA processors, but the kicker for DRC is that the chip can be integrated into a multi-slot Opteron server running the correct software.
Each series of coprocessors
unveiled by the company
uses the standard HyperTransport (HT) interface to communicate with the main processor. The low end coprocessor, the DRC100-L60ES, uses a 200MHz by 8-bit HT link. DRC's two high end modules, the DRC100-L60 and the DRC110-L160 both use a 400MHz by 16-bit interface instead. DRC coprocessors range in size from 50,000 to 140,000 programmable gates and all three can utilize 6.4GBps between the Xilinx FPGA and the DDR400 memory bank.
Each DRC module starts at about $4,500. Competing proprietary systems from SGI and IBM easily cost four times that and generally require additional proprietary hardware and contracts to support.
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RE: It's the software stupid...
4/24/2006 4:33:21 PM
There's plenty of "software" for it. The Virtex 4 takes standard HDL eg VHDL or verilog. You can get some at www.opencores or many others including Xilinx's OWN IP for tasks like Fast fourier transform, DES encryption etc.
The only difficuly is you need a synthesis tool (like a software compiler) to produce a bitstream for the Xilinx yourself. To target this particular chip you can't use the free Xilinx tools but need the pay-for license which does not run particularly cheap. Then again if you're paying $4500 for a fpga on a board, you can pay the tools cost.
I disagree that this is useless on PCI-E or even PCI. That is because the application may have little process intercommunication required. eg to run an ECM factorisation algorithm in the virtex, it does not need to talk much to the rest of the system aside from pass the result. Therefore PCI-E is entirely appropriate, and that is why there are many conventional cards with FPGAs onboard. Recently both CRAY and SGI have developed coprocessor modules connecting Virtex fpgas closely. There does exist an HTX (hypertransport slot) standard which IWill implement. However as most opteron boards do not use that, a direct plug in is a good idea. However, I think they would do well to target it at the forthcoming SOCKET F which should be future opterons on ddr2. I hope AMD provide some more news on that real soon.
RE: It's the software stupid...
4/24/2006 4:41:48 PM
Just to add a little, I already have and use an array of PCI fpga boards using the Xilinx Spartan 3 which is the baby brother of these Virtex 4 chips (just less logic available and a little slower). PCI is sufficient for many applications. However, I may shortly be migrating to a PCI-Express based Virtex 4 board. I would be unlikely to invest $4500 in a socket that is about to change. If they launched a socket F version and socket F opteron systems took over I would be more likely to invest in that. For some applications the hypertransport would be advantageous over even PCI express.
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