Choosing an FPGA Processor: Top 5 Considerations

October 20, 2014 | BY: Denis Smetana, Jeremy Banks

FPGA (field programmable gate array) processors typically gather vast amounts of data in real time on the front end of embedded systems. They parcel the data to digital signal processors. As a parallel data processing engine, an FPGA processor completes thousands of processing tasks simultaneously, in contrast to a CPU, which is capable of sophisticated serial operations, conducting a few operations at a time.

Due to its capability for direct parallel real-time processing, the FPGA processor is the ideal solution for high-speed, high-volume digital signal processing defense applications such as radar, electronic warfare, signal intelligence, image processing, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance applications.

Following are the five most significant considerations to make when choosing the most appropriate FPGA processor for your application:

  • Performance: Consider an FPGA processor not only for its performance as a data processing engine, but also as an I/O engine that is capable of running high-bandwidth data in and out of the card, as well as handling high-bandwidth memory. Due to the high performance of an FPGA, another consideration is the amount of power required and the resources to manage the resulting heat.
  • System Integration and Interoperability:  FPGAs are typically one piece of a large system, all part of a product family, ideally all supported by one vendor with proven interoperability that ties the products together and permits quick and easy development for specific applications. Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions specializes in developing interoperable systems.
  • Ruggedization:  FPGA processors tend to operate on the high-power end of the spectrum. And they're commonly part of embedded defense systems in environments with size, weight and power (SWaP) constraints, such as unmanned vehicles and smaller aircraft and land vehicles, where heat can be an issue. So a significant consideration is the ruggedization required to support optimal system performance in high temperatures, shock and vibration. Curtiss-Wright has extensive experience designing for such extremes in defense applications.
  • Ease of Use:  Compared to CPUs, FPGAs can be difficult to use and challenging to program, so consider collateral tool kits of software and IP reference and simulation designs, such as those developed by Curtiss-Wright, to facilitate fast, effective development of a system-wide infrastructure.
  • FPGA Vendors:  FPGAs differ from vendor to vendor in performance and suitability for specific applications. Curtiss-Wright helps customers identify the most appropriate vendor and FPGA for each defense application.

For more information on FPGA processors, contact a Curtiss-Wright representative.

Author’s Biography

Denis Smetana

Senior Product Manager - FPGA

Denis Smetana is Senior Product Manager for FPGA products for Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions, based out of Ashburn Virginia. He has over 25 years of experience with ASIC and FPGA product development and management in both the telecom and defense industry and over 10 years of experience with COTS FPGA products. He has a BSEE in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech.

Jeremy Banks, ISR, embedded computing

Author’s Biography

Jeremy Banks

Product Marketing Manager, ISR Solutions

Jeremy Banks is a Product Marketing Manager for Sensor and I/O Processing in the ISR group at Curtiss-Wright. He has been involved in the defence embedded computing industry for over 25 years holding positions in engineering design, marketing and product management in DSP, Multi-Processing, RF IO, SBCs, FPGAs and System solutions. Jeremy is a graduate of the University of Surrey in Electronic and Electrical engineering.

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