Analyzing the Divide between FPGA Academic and Commercial Results

Elias Vansteenkiste, Alireza Kaviani and Henri Fraissé Analyzing the Divide between FPGA Academic and Commercial Results International Conference on Field-Programmable Technology, accepted (2015)


Abstract

The pinnacle of success for academic work is often achieved by having impact on commercial products. In order to have a successful transfer bridge, academic evaluation flows need to provide representative results of similar quality to commercial flows.  A majority of publications in FPGA research use the same set of known academic CAD tools and benchmarks to evaluate new architecture and tool ideas. However, it is not clear whether the claims in academic publications based on these tools and benchmarks translate to real benefits in commercial products. In this work we compare the latest Xilinx commercial tools and products with these well-known academic tools to identify the gap in the major figures of merit. Our results show that there is a significant 2.2X gap in speed-performance for similar process technology. We have also identified the area-efficiency and runtime divide between commercial and academic tools to be 5% and 2.2X, respectively. We show that it is possible to improve portions of the academic flow such as ABC logic optimization to match the quality of commercial tools at the expense of additional runtime. Our results also show that depth reduction, which is often used as the main figure of merit for logic optimization papers does not translate to post-routing timing improvements. We finally discuss the differences between academic and commercial benchmark designs. We explain the main differences and trends that may influence the topic choice and conclusions of academic research. This work emphasizes how difficult it is to identify the relevant FPGA academic work that can provide meaningful benefits for commercial products.