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New AI Engines Give Versal an Edge

June 29, 2021

Author: Linley Gwennap

As promised, Xilinx is continuing to expand its Versal line, introducing its AI Edge family. The new parts are similar to the AI Core family, which are now in production, while extending Versal downward to serve applications that require lower cost and power. They also introduce an upgraded AI engine that doubles the peak performance of the previous generation, yielding a mid-generation boost. Versal devices combine a complete CPU subsystem and other hard logic with a programmable FPGA fabric to form what Xilinx calls an ACAP. 

The new models span a broad range. The low-end ones deliver up to 8 trillion INT8 operations per second (TOPS) at less than 10W, while the top-of-the-line VE2802 reaches 202 TOPS with a typical power of 75W. All include dual Cortex-A72 CPUs and at least one DDR4 DRAM interface. These products target camera-based automotive systems, robotics, drones, and similar edge equipment. Xilinx expects them to sample by the middle of next year.

Separately, the company announced plans to acquire Silexica, a small software company that provides tools to create FPGA-based accelerators from C code. These tools enable FPGA customers to avoid RTL design by converting software models into FPGA logic using a high-level synthesis flow. Although they simplify the design process, the performance of such accelerators considerably lags that of traditional RTL. The German startup had raised $28 million in funding; the acquisition price remains undisclosed. Xilinx plans to integrate the Silexica tools into its Vitis software stack.

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