Just-in-time hardware generation for abstracted reconfigurable computing
This thesis addresses the use of reconfigurable hardware in computing platforms, in order to harness the performance benefits of dedicated hardware whilst maintaining the flexibility associated with software. Although the reconfigurable computing concept is not new, the low level nature of the supporting tools normally used, together with the consequent limited level of abstraction and resultant lack of backwards compatibility, has prevented the widespread adoption of this technology. In addition, bandwidth and architectural limitations, have seriously constrained the potential improvements in performance. A review of existing approaches and tools flows is conducted to highlight the current problems being faced in this field. The objective of the work presented in this thesis is to introduce a radically new approach to reconfigurable computing tool flows. The runtime based tool flow introduces complete abstraction between the application developer and the underlying hardware. This new technique eliminates the ease of use and backwards compatibility issues that have plagued the reconfigurable computing concept, and could pave the way for viable mainstream reconfigurable computing platforms. An easy to use, cycle accurate behavioural modelling system is also presented, which was used extensively during the early exploration of new concepts and architectures. Some performance improvements produced by the new reconfigurable computing tool flow, when applied to both a MIPS based embedded platform, and the Cray XDl, are also presented. These results are then analyzed and the hardware and software factors affecting the performance increases that were obtained are discussed, together with potential techniques that could be used to further increase the performance of the system. Lastly a heterogenous computing concept is proposed, in which, a computer system, containing multiple types of computational resource is envisaged, each having their own strengths and weaknesses (e.g. DSPs, CPUs, FPGAs). A revolutionary new method of fully exploiting the potential of such a system, whilst maintaining scalability, backwards compatibility, and ease of use is also presented.