What is Zynq?
When it comes to electronics, developers can take several different approaches to accomplish their goals. Two approaches that developers must carefully consider to construct a computer or other electronic system is whether to use:
- Traditional, motherboard-based PC architecture
- An integrated circuit known as a “system on a chip,” or SoC
While a motherboard-based PC architecture separates components based on function and connects them all via a circuit board, an SoC combines most, if not all, components of a computer in a single chip. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and can be used to accomplish the same goal.
However, with Zynq, a special type of SoC developed by Xilinx (an All Programmable System-on-Chip or APSoC), developers have an enormous number of new pathways and immense flexibility to accomplish their goals with both ease and speed. This article will review what exactly Zynq is and the benefits it can provide to developers.
Definition of Zynq
Zynq is an APSoC – meaning that in addition to integrating most, if not all, components of a computer into a single chip, developers can also take advantage of the FPGA, or field-programmable gate array, technology present within it. Typically, FPGAs are standalone components that are used to prototype custom system chips, or design the hardware that will later be developed into application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs). Therefore the “system” in APSoC as it relates to Zynq, refers to the system of dual dedicated processors (Dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 Processors) and the FPGA technology. With access to both processor and FPGA functions, developers can leverage the best of both worlds.
Why Should I Use Zynq?
Traditional solutions typically utilize FPGA, ASIC, ASSP (application-specific standard product), or any combination of these devices to achieve the desired function. While these technologies are capable, there are numerous drawbacks associated with them.
For example, ASICs can offer suitable performance and power at a decent price but are less than ideal because of the lack of flexibility provided to the designer once the system is completed – which can lead to a longer time to market. Additionally, an ASIC lacks any sort of scalability – meaning for each new project, new ASICs must be developed.
On the other hand, ASSPs are less risky than ASICs and can have a faster time to market. But because it is a standard product, it lacks any flexibility in design. For that reason, developers often opt to use a 2-chip solution consisting of an FPGA coupled with an ASIC or ASSP to achieve a balanced trade-off. Using two chips, however, creates a whole new list of challenges for developers.
Zynq is unique in that it provides a solution for each of the challenges described above and effectively does so in a single chip – the first of its kind. It allows programmers of FPGA hardware access to the same resources software programmers usually have (i.e. programming languages like Python, operating systems, drivers, etc.).
Software programmers can use Zynq to modify and extend the functionality of their programs onto their hardware without the need to redesign the architecture of their programs. That same hardware design can be used repeatedly due to Zynq’s FPGA capability to extend the peripheral functions of the dual ARM A9 processors. Developers simply need to modify what must be different in each iteration of their design.
Today, electronic components that can offer higher performance and a higher level of integration into a single end-user device while retaining affordability and/or reducing power requirements are frequently expected by seemingly every industry that uses electronic systems. More customers desire flexible and scalable systems that can implement their needs in a timely fashion to beat their competitors to market. This is where Zynq shines.
Advantages of Zynq
- Programmable Systems Integration – Zynq represents a breakthrough in SoC-level integration. It is a combination of the capabilities and power characteristics of an ASIC, the flexibility of an FPGA, and the ease of programming associated with microprocessors, all within a single device. Since Zynq is a fully integrated system, it is both more reliable and more secure than a 2-chip solution.
- Heightened System Performance – Another advantage of using Zynq is its improved system performance. Of course, the dual-core ARM A9 processors – which can run up to 1 GHz – offer a high level of performance. However, what sets Zynq apart from other solutions is the integration of the bandwidth between both the programmable logic and the processing system. This bandwidth is several orders of magnitude larger than what could be achieved with a 2-chip solution. This allows developers to create accelerators that can offload processing-intensive tasks with up to 10x higher performance for certain functions.
- Cost and Power Reduction – Zynq can integrate the features of multiple components into a single chip while achieving the same desired function. This can lead to significant cost savings – up to 40%. The flexibility of Zynq allows users to use a single chip for multiple products – leading to more cost reduction if chips are bought in bulk. Power consumption is also greatly lowered because computing processes and data are no longer being sent from component to component, but rather those processes are all happening internally within Zynq.
- Expedited Time-to-Market – Zynq offers developers a huge advantage when it comes to productivity. The flexibility of programmable logic allows developers to tailor devices to customers’ specific needs without having to complete the lengthy and costly process of developing an ASIC. Should specifications change, developers can easily modify the device – both before product release and over the life of the product. Zynq’s scalability allows developers to create a single design and, consequently, use that same design for different projects with different specifications – all with ease. Its comprehensive ecosystem of tools (operating systems, I/O, etc.) allows end-users to get started immediately on their projects.
Go Beyond the Silicon with Digilent
Zynq is an innovative and groundbreaking solution in computing that combines many components found in electronics into a single chip. Some of its advantages are significant cost and power savings, improved productivity and usability, and a faster time to market. Digilent offers seven different products using Zynq chips – each with different form factors and specifications – to ensure developers can get what they need, at the right price.