Technical Minimize
Low Cost, High Performance FPGA and GPGPU Based Data Acquisition System
The Xilinx evaluation boards such as the ML605 (Virtex-6), KC705 (Kintex-7) and VC707 (Virtex-7) give access to high end FPGAs for a relatively low budget. Actually the cost of these boards is about the same as you’d pay if you wanted to buy just the FPGA on the board itself, so essentially you are getting all the other features such as USB, memory, Ethernet, PCI-Express interface, etc. for free. A very interesting use for these boards is in combination with analogue to digital or digital to analogue converters (ADCs and DACs). The FMC form factor has grown rapidly in popularity giving a huge range of high performance modules. The Xilinx evaluation boards listed above can all take up to two such FMC modules. This makes an extremely powerful processing platform. Below you can see a Xilinx KC705 Kintex-7 Evaluation Board and a 4DSP FMC150 ADC/DAC Daughter Module. We have a lot more FMC modules available. Read more…

NVIDIA – Clear as Mud – Hyper-Q and Dynamic Parallelism on Laptops
Until now NVIDIA CUDA’s powerful new Hyper-Q and Dynamic Parallelism features were only available on Tesla Kepler K20 and some Quadro K-series cards. Geforce cards do not support it. The main reason for this apparently is that these functions require features only available on some Kepler architectures. However that is not the full story since the Geforce Titan does supposedly support Hyper-Q and Dynamic Parallelism but not dual copy engines or GPUDirect RDMA as we’ll see below. Read more…

Why use FPGAs for data acquisition systems?

Why would you want to purchase an ADC (analogue to digital convertor) or DAC (digital to analogue convertor) for use with an FPGA module? This is an important question. The choice of FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array chip) over say a conventional CPU or DSP, or even a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) means for many people a leap into the unknown. We move away from the familiar world of programming in languages such as C/C++ or .NET (C#, VB etc) and have to deal with more esoteric means such as VHDL or Verilog. There are of course new tools to simplify the programming of FPGAs but they have their limitations and are often prohibitively expensive.

Other Minimize
Programmers, Engineers and Politics
Should engineers and other technical people be more involved in politics? Yes, we probably should. With our analytic problem solving minds we could or should be able to provide a stabilizing hand to the sound-bite laden hubris. However that means dealing with the kind of people that we’d normally prefer to avoid. Almost universally there has been a rise in a political class – career politicians with no experience of the world beyond that of politics. There is the amusing anecdote of former British minister for health under Tony Blair, Alan Milburn who by default was in charge of one of the world’s largest employers – the NHS. He actually had business experience having run a second hand book store in the 60s caused Daze of Hope, which more usually went under the name Haze of Dope. This is still more than could be said of his fellow ministers with the exception of John Prescott, who had been a ship’s steward in the 1950s.

Ethics and Your Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
With great power comes great responsibility goes the phrase. In computing circles I would say that we’d be liable to think more along the lines of With great power comes great electricity bills or With great power comes great cooling problems. But should we also be more often considering the original intention? Should we as the engineers wielding the computer power be concerned with how this technology could be abused? A quick trawl of the internet shows precious little concern for such issues – we are almost all completely entranced by the rush of technical possibilities coming at us. If we give the matter any concern at all we tend to think in altruistic terms, of the great potential for a safer, more organized, more open, more equal, more efficient and faster world.