Flexibility in hardware and software is the most wanted thing for any electronics design engineer. Complex embedded software running on large FPGA fabric gives that power to the engineer to make both hardware as well as software change according to the design requirements.
But a pure FPGA is not required in lot of applications, where you need a lot of functions in hard core form. That give birth to the idea of programmable SOC, where a part of a monolithic chip is FPGA fabric and a part is multicore processor system and interface circuit. Xilinx gave to the market a product named as Zynq, the programmable SOC. Zynq is a perfect mix of hard-core logic, interface and rightly sized FPGA fabric. Zynq gave rise to a new range of applications such as Red Pitaya, an alternative to benchtop test and measurement and also to virtual PC based instrumentation. Xilinx calls this product a very successful one. When the 28 nm Zynq could create some new markets, the deeper node programmable SOCs can create even more new market-ideas in electronics.
Well, if you're waiting for 2X or more powerful Zynq, here is the good news, where Xilinx has announced the successful taping out of 16 nm Zynq FPGA chip which is called as Zynq Ultrascale+ using TSMC's 16FinFET+ process.
The Suggested application areas of this device includes artificial vision, self driving vehicles/driver assistance systems, industrial IOT, and the most used area of FPGA; 5G networks. Otherwise, in a single word this is right device for embedded artificial intelligence, where a lot of audio/video digital media data need to be crunched.
To give you some idea on what all the hard coded functions this device packs: quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 Application Processing Unit, a dual-core 32-bit ARM Cortex-R5 Real Time Processing Unit, and an ARM Mali-400 Graphics Processing Unit. UltraScale+ multiprocessor (MP) SoC family also includes range of integrated peripherals, safety and security features, and advanced power management. Picture below gives better idea on this device:
Some of the technical features specific to applications as suggested by Xilinx includes:
Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS): The Zynq MPSoC tightly couples highly parallelized hardware image processing and analytics acceleration with software based algorithm configuration and control. With the addition of expanded memory with UltraRAM for video buffering, throughput is maximized and latency is reduced; a critical attribute for ADAS. Finally, to enable real-time safety-critical countermeasure decisions and initiate actuator commands, the Zynq MPSoC ARM with dual core Cortex-R5 engines can be utilized in lockstep mode along with cross-monitoring and diagnostic-protected voting in the programmable fabric. The Zynq MPSoC was designed with automotive ISO-26262 functional safety requirements in mind, while still offering a scalable and highly customizable programmable platform that will future-proof customer designs in the quickly changing ADAS space.
Industrial Internet of Things: The Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC family is ideally suited to integrate data acquisition, perform real-time diagnostics, and enable local decision-making for intelligent connected control systems. The combination of the MPSoC processing subsystem, the UltraScale programmable logic fabric, and the new UltraRAM on-chip memory technology create the ideal platform to process the vast quantities of data for analytics and manage real-time machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. With a dedicated security processing unit and dual core Cortex-R5 engines that can be configured for lockstep, the Zynq MPSoC also supports SIL3 functional safety and security requirements.
5G systems: Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC devices support the increased radio and baseband processing requirements of next generation 5G systems. This includes the support of new 'massive MIMO' and adaptive beamforming architectures, CloudRAN layer 1 baseband acceleration and associated Fronthaul applications, with flexible support of multiple standards and multiple bands at significantly lower power. The Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC, with its quad core ARM Cortex-A53 processing subsystem, leverages an integrated fine grain power management system to implement lower power optimal hardware-software design for digital pre-distortion, beamforming control functions, and system management tasks.