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Addressing the top challenges in RFSoC development and integration

18 October 2023

From signal integrity to power consumption, how engineers reduce costly design mistakes before production.

The latest advances in combining processors, mixed-signal solutions, and FPGA technology culminate in the sophisticated capabilities of today’s RFSoC (Radio Frequency System On Chip) devices. As the ideal platform for meeting high-performance RF communications needs in a variety of commercial and industrial applications, RFSoC devices bring together powerful processing units, FPGAs, on-chip memory, and direct RF-sampling analog-to-digital converters (ADC) and digital-to-analog converters (DAC) onto a single SoC, eliminating the need for external components and complexity.

The challenge for system engineers and hardware designers is knowing how to design and integrate these components effectively without compromising performance, power consumption, and signal integrity. This blog explains the top considerations for RFSoC design and how Fidus helps reduce these risks before production.

How engineers use RFSoC platforms

RFSoC devices host a complete signal processing system by combining high-speed ADCs and DACs, powerful processors, FPGA fabric, and memory on a single, monolithic device. Highly capable and programmable, these devices support the development of many radio applications, ranging from 5G wireless communication systems and autonomous vehicles to software defined radios (SDR) and military products. While RFSoC devices offer unparalleled flexibility, they also present complex design issues that engineers must consider.

Poor and insufficiently validated designs lead to unwanted signal distortion, interference, noise, and power consumption. RFSoC applications should balance high speed processing and resource footprint effectively, meaning hardware engineers must understand the three critical design aspects explained below.

1. Working with multiple channels

In RFSoC designs that require multiple channels, engineers must consider these aspects:

  • Timing synchronization: To synchronize multiple channels, the timing of signals in each channel must be aligned to avoid inter-symbol interference, crosstalk, and other types of interference that can degrade signal quality.
  • Frequency synchronization: This is essential to avoid frequency drift that causes errors and distortion in the received signals.
  • Phase synchronization: Proper in-phase alignment of signals in each channel is critical for avoiding phase errors that cause interference and distortion in the received signals, degrading overall system performance.
  • Channel equalization: It may be necessary to compensate for variations in channel response by implementing equalization techniques that ensure the received signals are of uniform quality across all channels.
  • Data alignment: Aligning the data in each channel involves techniques like packet synchronization, framing, and bit synchronization to ensure the data in each channel can be processed correctly.

Knowing techniques like adaptive filtering, digital signal processing (DSP), and synchronization algorithms help address these aspects to ensure communication systems reliably meet stringent performance requirements.

2. Managing power consumption

RFSoC-based systems require efficient power regulation and distribution to ensure they remain within acceptable operating temperatures and power budgets. The critical considerations here are:

  • Power integrity: A clean and stable power supply through all RFSoC components is necessary for optimal performance, requiring power designs to minimize voltage drops, noise, and crosstalk through techniques like decoupling value optimization and location.
  • Power efficiency: Peak power requirements must be balanced with the need to consume as little average energy as possible, especially for applications that are power limited (e.g., eco-friendly systems) or portable.
  • Thermal management: The high-density integration of processing and RF circuits in RFSoC systems can result in significant amounts of heat, requiring well thought-out thermal management components like heat sinks and fans, and in some cases, liquid cooling.

3. Ensuring signal integrity

High frequency RF components can lead to signal distortion, reduced signal-to-noise ratio, and increased bit error rates if designs aren’t well planned out and implemented. To minimize these issues, engineers must consider different aspects of signal design, including:

  • Component integration: The signal processing components in an RFSoC-based system require expert implementation to optimize performance and differentiate the solution.
  • High-speed data transfer: Signal integrity must be ensured by optimizing the layer stack and routing to minimize noise, crosstalk, and distortion to prevent errors in data streams.
  • Power and ground noise: Due to high-speed digital and analog circuits coexisting on the same platform, the design of power and ground distribution is critical to ensure signal quality.
  • Electromagnetic interference: RF systems are susceptible to electromagnetic interference (EMI) from external sources so shielding techniques, such as component separation, ground planes, shields, and filters, must be selected and implemented to maintain signal integrity.

How Fidus supports RFSoC development & integration

To provide manufacturers, research facilities, and development labs with a flexible and capable system for experimentation and rapid prototyping, Fidus developed the RFSoC Development Platform based on the proven AMD Zynq® UltraScale+™ RFSoC. Including customizable radio, memory, control, and data transfer cards, this platform fits the needs of any workbench, enabling engineers to implement their ideas and work through design and integration issues well before production.

Front view of the Fidus RFSoC Development Platform

Partnered with Fidus design services, each RFSoC Development Platform is customized to suit individual needs, offering:

  • Extensive control and flexibility over the RF workbench for rapid experimentation and prototyping.
  • Multiple devices and modules combined into one enclosure, including the Zynq® UltraScale+™ RFSoC, memory, storage, programmable clocking, data transfer, and control cards.
  • Access to skills and experience ranging from FGPA design and verification to DSP techniques and best practices.
  • Full rights to developed IP.
  • Reduced time to market by proving out designs before costly errors in production.

The path to successful RFSoC development and integration

RFSoC-based systems are the future of high-performance wireless applications and manufacturers must adopt the right tools and expertise now to de-risk their engineering efforts and get to market faster. The Fidus RFSoC Development Platform brings a competitive advantage to research and development workbenches by enabling the experimentation and validation of design concepts before incurring costly mistakes in production.

To learn more about the challenges and recommendations for successful RFSoC development, including technical considerations for hardware engineers, download our latest whitepaper from our Knowledge Hub “Understanding RFSoC development & integration challenges”.

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