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Implementation of the OPU Instruction Set Architecture on the Microsemi Polarfire 300 Field-Programmable Gate Array


Deep learning is a fast-growing field with numerous promising applications that, unfortunately, demands large computing power for both training and inference tasks. To meet this demand, numerous hardware accelerators have thus been designed. Currently, however, these platforms are being developed independently from each other, and, as a result, there is a lack of compatibility between them. Notably, there is a need for standardization of the interface between hardware accelerators and software. UCLA's OPU is an ISA that aims at solving this issue. Contrary to general-purpose ISAs, OPU is designed to adequately express the computations involved in deep learning models, which allows for simple compilation and efficient cores.

Prior to this work, only two fully-featured cores implementing the OPU ISA had been designed, both targeted at Xilinx SRAM-based FPGAs. However, flash-based FPGAs can offer several advantages thanks to their different technology. They are more secure, more reliable, and can yield a lower power consumption. All three of these characteristics being potentially highly valuable for deep learning accelerators, especially those embedded in edge devices, a new OPU core is here developed and mapped to a flash-based FPGA. More specifically, the potential of the MPF300 FPGA as a platform for the OPU ISA is evaluated. This represents the first OPU core implemented on an FPGA that is not manufactured by Xilinx. In addition, this design is also the first OPU core capable of operating on floating-point numbers, which simplifies the compilation of models. As such, this work contributes to the diversification of the catalog of available OPU cores, which increases the relevance of this ISA.

While prior work affirms that, on Xilinx FPGAs, 8-bit floating-point arithmetic is more area-efficient than 8-bit integer arithmetic, the opposite is found in this work for Microsemi FPGAs. As a consequence, it is established that the optimum manner to perform large floating-point dot products on the MPF300 is to convert the operands to wider integers, on the device, then complete the computations using integer arithmetic. In contrast to Xilinx FPGAs, 5-bit mantissas are here preferred over 4-bit mantissas. Additionally, due to the lower ratio of the number of LUTs to DSPs of the MPF300, the relative resource utilization is found to be significantly higher here compared to the existing implementations.

This new OPU core is found to be in average 1.7 times more energy-efficient than the existing similarly-sized implementation of the OPU ISA. Furthermore, the new core is in average 2 times faster than the Nvidia Jetson Nano platform, while consuming the same amount of power. These results further prove the relevance of the OPU ISA. In addition, this demonstrates that flash-based FPGAs, too, are a viable option for deep learning acceleration. The scarcity of these FPGAs in the relevant literature is thus not justified. Nevertheless, analysis of the core shows that the layout of modern FPGAs is in general suboptimal for the task of machine learning acceleration. In particular, the placement of the hard resources of the device tends to cause congestion on the device that reduces performance. This suggests the need for the development of specialized FPGAs for this task.

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