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Breaking The Three Laws
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    Breaking the Three Laws is dedicated to discussing technically challenging ASIC prototyping problems and sharing solutions.
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    Michael (Mick) Posner joined Synopsys in 1994 and is currently Director of Product Marketing for Synopsys' FPGA-Based Prototyping Solutions. Previously, he has held various product marketing, application consultant and technical marketing manager positions at Synopsys. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Electronic and Computer Engineering from the University of Brighton, England.

DDR3 memory and how useful a brick can be

Posted by Michael Posner on April 19th, 2013

Last week I wrote almost nothing about FPGA-Based Prototyping because I was off in the weeds talking about painting fish and my Subaru building and racing hobby (Some says it’s an obsession, not a hobby). I got so many complements on my blog, thanks! This week it’s back to your normally scheduled programming. I was planning a short blog posting this week but then I got carried away and now I find this post really long. Stick it out and read the whole thing it’s full of useful tips.

I was challenged this week to explain why HAPS systems don’t have DDR memory hard wired directly on the FPGA but rather support them via a daughter board. The assertion from the person (they work at Synopsys) was that you couldn’t support the DDR3 speeds via a connector and DDR3 had to be hard wired.

First of all, this person obviously does not read my blog otherwise they would have read me UFC Cables vs. PCB Traces blog a while back: http://blogs.synopsys.com/breakingthethreelaws/2013/03/ufc-cables-vs-pcb-traces/ It includes information on the high speed HapsTrak 3 connectors. Just from this post they should have worked out that the Hapstrak connectors has the performance capable of supporting DDR3 interface speed. Another give away that DDR across a connector on a daughter board is not a problem is that we supported DDR2 on the classic HAPS-50 systems and support DDR3-800 (400MHz interface) on the HAPS-60 system.

With the HAPS-70 systems and the move to the new Hapstrak 3 connector we raised the bar again and support DDR3-1066 (533Mhz interface) and have even been testing at DDR3-1333 (666 MHz interface).

So you say argument done, Mick wins, case closed…….. NO. Challenge me and prepare to go down. Now it’s my turn, I’m on a mission to show that not only does HAPS support DDR3 but because of the flexible daughter board implementation that the prototypers get additional value. Some people would call this the double punch, I like to call it the punch while holding a brick (yay, finally I tie the title of this blog into the post).

The brick held punch; Simply put, if you hard wire DDR3 or any interface to the FPGA of a prototype you are reducing your IO count available for interconnect or other daughter boards. If you read my post on interconnect flexibility and signal mux ratio: http://blogs.synopsys.com/breakingthethreelaws/2013/02/how-io-interconnect-flexibility-and-signal-mux-ratios-affect-system-performance/ you understand the importance of available IO. Lets say your design does not use DDR3 memory, with a board that has DDR hard wired those IO’s are wasted, you are not using the DDR but you can’t use the IOs because they are hard wired. On the HAPS system if you are not using the DDR you have no wasted IO.

If you are using DDR memory you might think that at that point a solution with hard wired DDR and the HAPS flexible solution are the same. If you thought this you would be mistaken. With a hard wired solution you are forced to place your memory controller in the SLR where the DDR3 is hard wire connected. This pretty much ties your implementation hands which could also force a sub-optimal interconnect topology. With the HAPS system you are free to move the DDR between any of the Xilinx Virtex-7 2000T’s SLR’s. Way more flexible and you get to choose the best location for the memory controller which makes sense to your system. Of course you should always bank and SLR match as that’s the requirement of the FPGA and DDR operation.

So at this point I have proved that DDR on a daughter board is possible, you don’t waste IO’s and the additional flexibility of placement results in a prototype implementation optimized to your design requirements. But I’m not finished…… (I know, I bet you were wishing I was)

Lets look at a block diagram of a typical prototyping board. This board has one DDR3 SODIMM connectors hard wired per FPGA. Tell me, how many SoC’s have you seen with multiple DDR controllers? None, that’s how many I’ve seen.

You are forced to implement your DDR controller in one of the FPGA’s and then you have 372 wasted IO’s.

Now look at the HAPS-70 S48 with the memory controller implemented. NO WASTED IO. If for some crazy reason you did want to implement four (or more) DDR controllers on the HAPS-70 S48 you can do that and you still have the flexibility to implement those where you want to. Just plug in a DDR daughter board.

Now that’s what I call the brick held punch! Anyone else want to challenge me :)

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