Methodology for Developing C/C++ Kernels - 2023.2 English

Vitis Unified Software Platform Documentation: Application Acceleration Development (UG1393)

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2023.2 English

The Vitis software platform supports kernels modeled in either C/C++ or RTL (Verilog, VHDL, System Verilog). This methodology guide applies to C/C++ kernels. For details on developing RTL kernels, see Packaging RTL Kernels.

The following key kernel requirements for optimal application performance should have already been identified during the architecture definition phase:

  • Throughput goal
  • Latency goal
  • Datapath width
  • Number of engines
  • Interface bandwidth

These requirements drive the kernel development and optimization process. Achieving the kernel throughput goal is the primary objective, as overall application performance is predicated on each kernel meeting the specified throughput.

The kernel development methodology therefore follows a throughput-driven approach and works from the outside-in. This approach has two phases, as also described in the following figure:

  1. Defining and implementing the macro-architecture of the kernel
  2. Coding and optimizing the micro-architecture of the kernel

Before starting the kernel development process, it is essential to understand the difference between functionality, algorithm, and architecture; and how they pertain to the kernel development process.

  • Functionality is the mathematical relationship between input parameters and output results.
  • Algorithm is a series of steps for performing a specific functionality. A given functionality can be performed using a variety of different algorithms. For instance, a sort function can be implemented using a "quick sort" or a "bubble sort" algorithm.
  • Architecture, in this context, refers to the characteristics of the underlying hardware implementation of an algorithm. For instance, a particular sorting algorithm can be implemented with more or less comparators executing in parallel, with RAM or register-based storage, and so on.

You must understand that the Vitis compiler generates optimized hardware architectures from algorithms written in C/C++. However, it does not transform a particular algorithm into another one. Even if the software program can be automatically converted (or synthesized) into hardware, achieving acceptable quality of results (QoR), requires additional work such as rewriting the software to help the HLS tool achieve the desired performance goals.

Therefore, because the algorithm directly influences data access locality, in addition to potential for computational parallelism, your choice of algorithm has a major impact on achievable performance, more so than the compiler's abilities or user specified pragmas. To help, you need to understand the best practices for writing good software for execution on the FPGA device. The next few sections discuss how you can first identify some macro-level architectural optimizations to structure your program and then focus on some fine-grained micro-level architectural optimizations to boost your performance goals.

The following methodology assumes that you have identified a suitable algorithm for the functionality that you want to accelerate.

Figure 1. Kernel Development Methodology