As the market for embedded devices continues to grow, the demand for high performance, low cost, and low power computation grows as well. Many embedded applications perform computationally intensive tasks such as processing streaming video or audio, wireless communication, or speech recognition. Often, performance requirements are on the order of 10-100 billion operations per second and must be implemented within tight power budgets on the order of 100 mW. Typically, general purpose processors are not able to meet these performance and power requirements. Custom hardware in the form of loop accelerators are often used to execute the compute-intensive portions of these applications because they can achieve significantly higher levels of performance and power efficiency.
Automated hardware synthesis from high level specifications is a key technology used in designing these accelerators, because the resulting hardware is correct by construction, easing verification and greatly decreasing time-to-market in the quickly evolving embedded domain. In this dissertation, a compiler-directed approach is used to design a loop accelerator from a C specification and a throughput requirement. The compiler analyzes the loop and generates a virtual architecture containing sufficient resources to sustain the required throughput. Next, a software pipelining scheduler maps the operations in the loop to the virtual architecture. Finally, the accelerator datapath is derived from the resulting schedule.
In this dissertation, synthesis of different types of loop accelerators is investigated. First, the system for synthesizing single loop accelerators is detailed. In particular, a scheduler is presented that is aware of the effects of its decisions on the resulting hardware, and attempts to minimize hardware cost. Second, synthesis of multifunction loop accelerators, or accelerators capable of executing multiple loops, is presented. Such accelerators exploit coarse-grained hardware sharing across loops in order to reduce overall cost. Finally, synthesis of post-programmable accelerators is presented, allowing changes to be made to the software after an accelerator has been created.
The tradeoffs between the flexibility, cost, and energy efficiency of these different types of accelerators are investigated. Automatically synthesized loop accelerators are capable of achieving order-of-magnitude gains in performance, area efficiency, and power efficiency over processors, and programmable accelerators allow software changes while maintaining highly efficient levels of computation.