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The Role Of FPGAs In AI Acceleration

21 May 2024

Role of FPGA in AI

Introduction to AI and FPGA Technology

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is at the forefront of technological innovation, driving advancements across numerous industries from healthcare to automotive. However, the vast computational power required for AI applications presents significant challenges. Traditional hardware like CPUs and GPUs, while powerful, often struggle to meet these demands efficiently. This is where Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) come into play. In this blog, we will explore the transformative role of FPGAs in AI acceleration. You will learn how FPGAs provide a flexible, efficient, and high-performance solution for AI tasks. We will cover:

By the end of this blog, you will have a comprehensive understanding of how FPGAs can revolutionize AI applications, offering significant improvements in performance, efficiency, and flexibility. You will also see how Fidus Systems leverages its expertise and strategic partnerships to deliver cutting-edge FPGA solutions that meet the growing demands of AI technology.

For more insights into FPGA solutions for AI applications, particularly in complex and critical systems like multi-channel FMCW radar systems for the autonomous industry, download our whitepaper titled “Optimizations for RADAR-based ADAS Systems.” This document provides valuable knowledge for professionals looking to enhance their radar systems with the advanced capabilities of FPGA technology. Download now to explore further!

Whitepaper: Optimizations for RADAR-based ADAS Systems

Understanding FPGA Technology

What Are FPGAs and How Do They Function?

Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are integrated circuits that can be programmed and reprogramed to perform specific tasks after manufacturing.

Unlike CPUs and GPUs, which have fixed hardware structures, FPGAs consist of an array of programmable logic blocks and interconnects that can be configured to execute custom hardware functionality. This flexibility allows developers to design highly customized solutions tailored to specific computing tasks.

The core of FPGA technology lies in its programmability, driven by a configuration that is specified using hardware description languages (HDLs), such as VHDL or Verilog. These languages define the behavior of the FPGA architecture, which includes logic gates, configurable blocks, and the routing paths that interconnect these elements. Once programmed, the FPGA can execute tasks at high speeds, often with greater efficiency and lower latency than software running on general-purpose processors.

FPGA vs. CPUs and GPUs in Hardware Acceleration

Core FunctionalityGeneral-purpose processing with a focus on sequential tasks.Optimized for parallel processing, especially for graphics and large data sets.Highly customizable for specific applications; excels in parallel processing for tailored tasks.
FlexibilityHighly versatile, can handle a wide range of computing tasks.Less flexible than CPUs; primarily designed for tasks that can be parallelized.Extremely flexible in function; can be reprogrammed to suit specific needs and tasks.
PerformancePerforms well across a broad range of applications but may not excel in tasks requiring massive parallelism.High throughput for parallel tasks, ideal for deep learning and complex simulations.Can be optimized at the hardware level to outperform CPUs and GPUs in specific applications.
EfficiencyEfficient for general computing tasks and software applications.Energy and compute efficient for tasks with high parallelism but can be overkill for simpler processes.Highly efficient for specific tasks due to customization; reduces the need for redundant processing.
LatencyGenerally higher latency compared to FPGAs due to less specialization.Lower latency than CPUs in parallel tasks but can still be high for certain applications.Low latency, especially in customized implementations where processes are streamlined.
Power ConsumptionModerate, but can be high depending on the workload.High, particularly under full computational loads.Generally lower than CPUs and GPUs when optimized for specific tasks.
Development ComplexityEasier to program due to mature tools and higher level programming languages.Requires specialized knowledge for optimization, such as CUDA for Nvidia GPUs.Higher complexity in programming and design, requiring knowledge of hardware description languages.
CostGenerally lower cost for general computing needs.Can be costly, especially high-end models designed for intense computing tasks.Initial high cost for development and implementation, but cost-effective for long-term specialized use.
Key differences between FPGA, GPU, and CPU in the context of hardware acceleration.

In terms of hardware acceleration, FPGAs often outperform CPUs and sometimes GPUs in scenarios where the computation can be massively parallelized and fine-tuned at the hardware level.

For example, in data center applications, FPGAs can accelerate workloads such as data compression, encryption, and pattern matching far more efficiently than general-purpose processors. Moreover, their reconfigurability makes FPGAs especially valuable in fields like telecommunications and network processing, where adaptability to evolving standards and protocols is critical.

Fidus Systems leverages the unique capabilities of FPGAs to provide customers with highly specialized, efficient, and effective solutions. By designing systems that harness the specific strengths of FPGAs, Fidus not only meets the diverse needs of their projects but also ensures that these solutions are adaptable to future requirements and technological advances. This strategic use of FPGA technology allows for significant performance enhancements in areas requiring precise, high-speed processing and low-latency operations.

The Role of FPGA in AI Applications

How FPGAs are Used in AI

Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are increasingly being used in AI applications due to their high efficiency and ability to be reprogrammed for specific tasks, making them ideal for both neural networks and deep learning applications. FPGAs are particularly valuable in AI for several reasons:

  • Flexibility and Customization: Unlike fixed hardware configurations of CPUs and GPUs, FPGAs can be reconfigured with new logic designs to adapt to new algorithms or optimize existing ones, which is crucial as AI models and standards continue to evolve.
  • Parallel Processing Capabilities: FPGAs excel at handling multiple operations simultaneously, which is essential for the matrix and vector computations fundamental to machine learning and neural networks.
  • Efficiency in Data Flow Management: FPGAs can manage data flows in a way that reduces latency and increases throughput, crucial for AI applications that require real-time processing such as video analysis and autonomous driving systems.
  • Energy Efficiency: By optimizing their configurations for specific tasks, FPGAs can perform computations faster and more efficiently than general-purpose processors, leading to significant energy savings.


While GPUs are traditionally favored for their powerful parallel processing capabilities, which are well-suited for training deep learning models, FPGAs offer distinct advantages in certain AI scenarios:

  • Power Efficiency: FPGAs are more power-efficient than GPUs when tailored for specific tasks, making them ideal for deployment in edge devices where power availability is limited.
  • Lower Latency: FPGAs provide lower latency than GPUs due to their ability to be programmed for specific tasks, which simplifies the processing pipeline.
  • Flexibility: FPGAs allow for on-the-fly reprogramming, which GPUs do not, providing adaptability in rapidly changing AI fields like autonomous vehicles or real-time data processing.

In scenarios where flexibility, power efficiency, and latency are critical, FPGas can outperform GPUs, especially during the inference phase of machine learning, where decisions need to be made quickly and efficiently.

FPGA Accelerators for Machine Learning

What Are FPGA Accelerators?

FPGA accelerators are hardware circuits on an FPGA designed to speed up specific tasks in machine learning workflows. These accelerators can significantly increase the speed of certain computations, such as convolutional operations in deep learning networks, by optimizing the hardware pathways specifically for those operations.

Benefits in Machine Learning

FPGA accelerators offer several key benefits:

  • Speed: They can process tasks faster than software running on general-purpose processors by executing multiple operations in parallel.
  • Customization: They can be tailored to accelerate specific parts of a machine learning algorithm, improving performance where it is most needed.
  • Efficiency: They consume less power compared to running similar tasks on CPUs or GPUs, extending the operational capacity in power-sensitive environments.

Integration into AI Workflows

FPGAs can be integrated into both the training and inference phases of AI workflows:

  • During Training: While not traditionally used due to their complex programming requirements, FPGAs can accelerate specific tasks in the training phase, such as forward and backward propagation, by handling intensive computations more efficiently.
  • During Inference: FPGAs are ideal for inference because they can process data in real time with low latency. They are particularly useful in environments where decisions must be made quickly and where deploying large GPU systems is impractical.

Fidus Systems’ expertise in FPGA design and implementation ensures that these accelerators are optimized for performance and efficiency, making them suitable for a wide range of AI applications, from cloud computing environments to edge devices.

Advantages of FPGA in AI

FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays) offer significant advantages over GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) for certain AI applications, due to their customizable nature, energy efficiency, and ability to perform low-latency operations. Here’s a deeper look into these technical benefits:

AI Acceleration via FPGA chip
  • Customization and Flexibility: FPGAs offer unparalleled flexibility, allowing for tailored configurations that meet the specific demands of AI workloads. Unlike GPUs, FPGAs can be reprogrammed for optimal efficiency in real-time applications, such as adaptive driving systems or robotic process automation. Fidus utilizes its partnership with AMD, using the Versal™ AI Core, to deliver highly customized AI solutions that provide not only superior performance but also greater functional agility.
  • Energy Efficiency: In applications where power efficiency is crucial, FPGAs provide significant advantages. Fidus has harnessed this benefit in projects such as the development of a low-latency, high-resolution drone camera system, where energy efficiency was paramount for extended operational capabilities. The use of FPGAs enabled the integration of multiple image sensors with minimal power consumption, highlighting their ability to perform complex calculations while maintaining lower energy profiles compared to traditional processing units.
  • Low Latency for Real-Time Processing: FPGAs excel in scenarios requiring rapid, real-time data processing. A prime example is Fidus’s work on an FPGA-based DSP processing unit for a multi-channel FMCW radar system, where the necessity for swift data processing is critical for the detection and navigation of autonomous vehicles. The ability of FPGAs to process data with minimal delay is crucial in automotive applications, where decision-making speed can be lifesaving.

Fidus Leads FPGA Innovations Across Industries

Fidus Systems distinguishes itself by delivering specialized FPGA solutions tailored to the unique demands of diverse industries. Each case study exemplifies their expertise in utilizing FPGA technology to enhance performance and solve complex challenges within specific sectors.

Healthcare and Medical Technology

  • Genetic Sequencing Data Management: In a significant advancement for genetic research, Fidus developed a low-latency, high-bandwidth data management system for a leading pharmaceutical company. The project utilized Fidus’ Sidewinder platform integrated with AMD/Xilinx Zynq Ultrascale+ MPSoC, facilitating rapid data processing essential for advanced machine learning applications in genetic sequencing. This solution significantly reduces the time to process massive datasets, accelerating the pace of genetic research and diagnostics. For more detailed insights into how this technology can enhance your projects, be sure to read our case study.
  • Professional Blood Analyzer: Fidus was instrumental in enhancing the performance of blood analyzers used in medical offices. They focused on redesigning the system to meet strict medical industry regulations, improving real-time processing capabilities which are critical for accurate and swift patient diagnostics. The project emphasized low-latency processing architectures, which are vital in medical diagnostics where speed and reliability are paramount.

Aerospace and Defense

  • High-Resolution Drone Imaging for Environmental Monitoring: For this project, Fidus engineered a comprehensive data management system for drones equipped with high-resolution cameras, used primarily in geological and hydrological surveying. By leveraging FPGA technology, the system managed data from multiple image sensors simultaneously, ensuring real-time processing and storage. This capability is crucial for creating accurate 3D environmental visualizations, aiding in better environmental monitoring and management. To explore how FPGAs can be leveraged for drone technology, download our case study.
  • Airborne Search and Rescue AIS Radio: Fidus enhanced an AIS radio system designed for airborne search and rescue operations by integrating a custom FPGA-based software-defined radio (SDR) engine. This application underscored their ability to deploy complex FPGA solutions that enhance the functionality and reliability of critical defense applications, ensuring robust performance even in demanding environments.

Industrial and Security

  • Performance Improvements in Industrial X-ray Source Technology: In collaboration with Enclustra, Fidus improved the FPGA-based X-ray sources used in industrial non-destructive testing and border security. This project highlighted Fidus’ expertise in meeting the strict regulatory and performance demands of the security sector, enabling quicker introduction of advanced capabilities to the market, which are essential for maintaining competitive edge and ensuring safety.
  • Prototyping High-Speed Interfaces for ASIC and SoC: The Mantyss-32G, developed for Synopsys’ HAPS systems, is a standout example of Fidus’ capability in industrial electronics. This daughter card accelerates ASIC and SoC prototyping, especially for designs requiring high-speed serial interfaces and integrated Arm processors, supporting the development of sophisticated industrial electronics with improved performance and modularity.


  • WiMAX Outdoor Access Point for High-Traffic Areas: Fidus delivered a comprehensive solution for a WiMAX access point, designed to handle high traffic in outdoor settings. This project involved a full turnkey approach, integrating multiple disciplines such as hardware design, FPGA, embedded software, and signal integrity, demonstrating Fidus’ ability to manage and execute complex telecommunications projects that demand high reliability and robust data handling.
  • Fiber-Optic Transceiver Development: This project involved developing a 10Gbps fiber-optic transceiver board, characterized by high-speed signal integrity on a mixed technology (Rogers/FR4) circuit board. It highlighted Fidus’ advanced capabilities in high-speed data communication, paving the way for future developments in telecommunication infrastructures that demand faster and more reliable data transfer rates.

These detailed examples illustrate Fidus Systems’ adeptness in harnessing FPGA technology to develop highly specialized solutions that not only meet but often exceed the technical and operational requirements of diverse industries. Their projects significantly contribute to advancing technological capabilities in each sector, reinforcing their position as a leader in FPGA applications.

Challenges and Considerations

Programming Complexity and Development Challenges

FPGAs, while incredibly flexible and powerful, come with their own set of programming complexities and development challenges. The intricacies of FPGA programming involve a deep understanding of hardware description languages such as VHDL or Verilog, and a thorough grasp of the specific architecture of the FPGA. These devices require precise configuration to efficiently handle parallel processing tasks, which is crucial for optimizing AI algorithms. Additionally, the iterative process of synthesis, place, and route can be time-consuming and requires considerable expertise to ensure performance efficiency and operational reliability.

 How Fidus Systems Addresses These Challenges

Fidus Systems tackles the inherent challenges of FPGA programming by leveraging its extensive experience and deep technical knowledge. With over 20 years of experience in electronic design, Fidus brings a seasoned approach to FPGA implementations, particularly in AI applications. They streamline the development process by employing advanced toolsets and methodologies such as High-Level Synthesis (HLS) which allows for writing FPGA configurations in higher-level programming languages like C or C++. This approach significantly reduces the complexity and development time. Fidus also utilizes a rigorous verification process, ensuring that the FPGA implementations are both efficient and robust, thereby enhancing their efficacy in AI applications.

How to Implement AI on FPGA

Step-by-Step Guide to Implementing AI on FPGA

  1. Algorithm Selection: Choose an AI algorithm suited for parallel processing. Algorithms that involve matrix operations, such as convolutional neural networks (CNNs), are typically well-suited for FPGAs.
  2. High-Level Design: Use HLS tools to translate the AI algorithm from a high-level language (C/C++) to an FPGA-implementable design. This step helps in abstracting some of the complexities related to traditional FPGA programming.
  3. Optimization: Focus on optimizing the design for speed and power. This involves adjusting the precision of calculations (fixed-point vs floating-point) and managing resource allocation to balance the load across the FPGA fabric.
  4. Simulation and Verification: Run simulations to verify the logic and functionality of the FPGA design. This step is crucial to ensure that the AI model behaves as expected before hardware implementation.
  5. Synthesis and Implementation: Convert the verified design into a low-level description that can be synthesized and implemented on the FPGA. This step involves synthesis, placement, and routing within the FPGA.
  6. Testing and Iteration: Deploy the FPGA in a test environment to monitor performance and make necessary adjustments. Iterative testing helps in refining the design for optimal performance.

Fidus Systems excels in transforming AI concepts into FPGA-based implementations. They provide end-to-end services from design conceptualization to final deployment, ensuring that AI projects are not only feasible but optimized for high performance and efficiency. Their capabilities include custom FPGA design for AI applications, integration of AI algorithms with FPGA hardware, and performance optimization of AI models on FPGA platforms. Fidus also supports scalability from prototype to production, making them a valuable partner for companies looking to leverage FPGA technology in their AI solutions. Their expertise is particularly beneficial in industries where speed and data processing efficiency are critical, such as in medical imaging, autonomous vehicles, and complex data analysis tasks.

FPGA vs. GPU: Comparison for AI Applications

Performance Metrics: GPUs are traditionally favored for AI applications due to their parallel processing capabilities, which are well-suited for handling the vast amounts of data typical in deep learning tasks. They excel in matrix operations and have high throughput, making them ideal for training and running complex neural network models.

FPGAs, on the other hand, excel in environments where customization and task-specific tuning are required. Their architecture allows for highly efficient data processing with lower latency because the FPGA fabric can be configured precisely to the task, minimizing unnecessary computations, and maximizing speed for specific operations. This is particularly useful in inference tasks or when running fixed algorithms where the computational requirements are well-known and stable.

Cost-Efficiency: GPUs generally have high initial costs but provide substantial raw computational power for the price, which is a critical factor in large-scale AI computations. They also benefit from a robust ecosystem of development tools and libraries that can reduce development time and costs.

FPGAs might seem cost-prohibitive initially due to the need for specialized knowledge to program and configure them effectively. However, they offer significant cost savings in the long run due to their reprogrammability and longevity. They can be updated with new firmware to adapt to new AI tasks without replacing the hardware, providing a cost-efficient solution in dynamic technological landscapes where frequent updates are necessary.

Application Suitability:

GPUs are generally better suited for applications where high throughput and large-scale data processing are required, such as in training AI models where parallel processing of large datasets is a continuous need.

FPGAs are particularly advantageous in applications requiring real-time processing capabilities, such as edge computing devices where decisions need to be made quickly and locally. They are also ideal for applications that must operate under strict power constraints since FPGAs are more energy-efficient than GPUs when tailored to specific tasks.

Why and When to Choose FPGA Over GPU for AI Needs

  • Customization and Flexibility: Choose FPGAs when the AI application demands specific, customized processing that deviates from standard computational tasks. FPGAs allow for fine-grained optimization that can significantly boost performance and efficiency in specialized applications.
  • Energy Efficiency and Operational Cost: FPGAs are more energy-efficient than GPUs for tailored tasks, making them suitable for deployment in energy-sensitive environments. They are particularly effective in embedded systems or mobile devices where power availability is limited.
  • Low Latency Requirements: Organizations should opt for FPGAs when their applications require ultra-low latency. Since FPGAs process data directly on the chip without the overhead of operating systems or high-level software, they can execute tasks much faster and are suitable for time-sensitive applications.
  • Long-Term Usability and Cost-Efficiency: FPGAs offer a cost-effective solution over time. They are reprogrammable, which means the same FPGA can be reused for different purposes or updated as AI models evolve, providing a longer operational lifespan without the need for frequent hardware upgrades.

In conclusion, the choice between FPGA and GPU in AI applications depends heavily on the specific requirements of the task, including performance needs, cost constraints, and application context. Fidus Systems, with its deep expertise in FPGA technology, is well-positioned to help organizations evaluate their needs and implement the most suitable, cost-effective solutions for their AI projects.

Future of FPGA in AI

Insights into the Evolving Role of FPGA in AI Industries

The role of FPGAs in artificial intelligence is set to become increasingly significant due to their adaptability and efficiency. As AI technologies evolve and demand more from hardware in terms of versatility and processing power, FPGAs are becoming a more attractive option for several reasons:

  • Customization and Efficiency: AI applications are diversifying, requiring more tailored computing solutions. FPGAs provide the necessary customization to optimize specific AI algorithms, allowing for more efficient processing than general-purpose GPUs in certain scenarios. This is particularly important for applications involving edge computing, where devices need to process data locally and efficiently without connecting to central servers.
  • Enhanced Data Privacy and Security: With increasing concerns about data privacy and security, FPGAs offer an advantage due to their inherent security features and the ability to process data in-situ, reducing the risk of data interception during transmission to cloud-based services.
  • Integration with Emerging Technologies: FPGAs are ideal for integration with emerging technologies like quantum computing and neuromorphic computing, which require highly specialized processing capabilities. FPGAs can be configured to mimic neural architectures, making them suitable for neuromorphic applications that AI is starting to explore.
  • Energy Efficiency: As global energy costs rise and the environmental impact of power consumption becomes a critical issue, the energy efficiency of FPGas becomes a pivotal factor in their adoption. Their ability to deliver significant computational power with less energy than GPUs is crucial for sustainable AI development.

Potential Future Developments

Looking ahead, the future of FPGAs in AI is expected to see several key developments:

  • Advancements in FPGA Design: We anticipate advancements in FPGA design that will lower the barriers to entry for AI developers, such as enhanced high-level synthesis (HLS) tools that simplify the translation of AI algorithms directly onto FPGAs.
  • Greater Ecosystem Support: As the adoption of FPGAs increases, so will the ecosystem around them, including libraries, frameworks, and developer tools that are specifically tailored to AI development on FPGA platforms.
  • Hybrid Architectures: There will likely be an increase in hybrid computing architectures where FPGAs are used alongside CPUs and GPUs to optimize various aspects of AI applications, from training to inference phases.

How Fidus can help companies leverage FPGA in their AI project?

Fidus Systems is uniquely positioned to help businesses capitalize on the advantages of FPGAs for AI. With extensive experience in electronic design and a deep understanding of FPGA technology, Fidus can offer businesses the following benefits:

  • Tailored FPGA Solutions: Fidus can design and develop customized FPGA solutions that are specifically optimized for the unique needs of individual AI applications, ensuring that businesses can maximize efficiency and performance.
  • Integration Support: Fidus provides comprehensive support for integrating FPGA solutions into existing AI infrastructures, helping businesses seamlessly transition to FPGA-based systems without disrupting their operations.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: Fidus helps businesses scale their AI applications effectively, providing FPGA solutions that can adapt to changing AI demands and technologies without the need for significant reinvestment in new hardware.
  • Expertise and Consultation: Fidus offers expert consultation on the best practices for implementing FPGA in AI, helping businesses make informed decisions that align with their strategic goals and technical requirements.


In this discussion, we’ve explored the distinct advantages and applications of FPGA technology, particularly in the context of AI. FPGAs offer customization, energy efficiency, and enhanced security, making them particularly suited for AI tasks that require fast, efficient, and secure processing. We’ve also seen how FPGAs are set to play an increasingly significant role in the future of AI, thanks to their adaptability and potential for integration with emerging technologies.

Fidus Systems stands at the forefront of this technological evolution, offering deep expertise in FPGA design and implementation. Their tailored solutions help businesses harness the full potential of FPGA technology, ensuring that AI applications are not only powerful and efficient but also scalable and future-proof.

Ready for your next AI project?

For more insights into how Fidus Systems can optimize FPGA solutions for AI applications, particularly in complex and critical systems like RADAR-based ADAS, we invite you to download our whitepaper titled “Optimizations for RADAR-based ADAS Systems.” It provides valuable knowledge for professionals looking to enhance their radar systems with the advanced capabilities of FPGA technology.

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