The board I am referring to is called "Merrick 3" from "Enterpoint (ltd)". The web page can be found here: http://enterpoint.co.uk/products/asic-development-high-performance-computing/merrick-3/

I can see that it uses PCIe and has a lot of FPGAs on the board itself. All these FPGAs work together to carry out calculations at very high speed. What is not clear to me is, how is the data coming into such a board structured? Does the main device on the board have somesort of state machine that helps it analyze incoming data and figure out what type of calculation needs to be done with the data?

The other thing not clear to me is how exactly does the board make so many FPGAs work together to achieve result of calculation? Can a Graphics card be made this way?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Wow, I bet that's expensive! \$\endgroup\$ May 15 '13 at 12:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can be sure of that, apparently the huge number of FPGAs being used on the board are all low end FPGAs. They are going to cheap but since they have built in DSP blocks on the silicon itself, this makes it possible to carry out calculations at such a high rate. Quite impressive indeed. \$\endgroup\$
    – quantum231
    May 15 '13 at 13:27

The board simply provides an array of FPGAs and optional SDRAMs with "generic" connections among them as shown in the block diagram. As delivered, the board doesn't do anything at all (except consume power).

It is up to you, as the end user, to write HDL code for the FPGAs, either individually or collectively, that makes use of the on-chip and off-chip resources to solve whatever problem that you have.

Yes, you could make a very impressive graphics card out of this, but you would have to add a small amount of hardware (via the expansion connector at the top) to support the specific display interface you want to use.

To use this board, you would need to first get a (more) detailed block diagram of the resources on it, and then figure out how to "map" a hardware architecture for your problem solution onto it. You will need a copy of the Xilinx FPGA development toolchain; there's a free version, but for a project of this magnitude, you'll probably want to pay for the full version. You then write HDL code (e.g., Verilog or VHDL) to implement the logic you've mapped onto each FPGA. In some cases, you'll have identical (or nearly identical) code installed on all of the FPGAs, creating a mesh processor of sorts. In other cases, you'll create a "pipeline" of FPGAs, with each one working on a unique part of the problem.

You will also need to figure out how to get your data into and out of the board. You might do this by writing a driver for the host PC that does this via the PCIe interface, or you might interface the board to external hardware via its expansion connector.

Needless to say, any project involving this board is a major undertaking, but it's nice to know that it's there if you really need it. One application for this board is to test algorithms and their hardware implementations prior to designing a full-custom ASIC for mass production.

  • \$\begingroup\$ REALLLYY? What I understood from the description is that this thing is designed to carry out calculations at upto 10000x rate as that of the on board CPU. If the FPGAs are all blank than this really is quite useless right? \$\endgroup\$
    – quantum231
    May 15 '13 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not at all! It's just like a new PC, before any software has been installed on it. Quite useful, in the right hands. And very flexible, in terms of the number of different things you can use it for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    May 15 '13 at 13:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually I was just curious as to how exactly it would work and how we would be able to instruct something specific. That is why I posted this SR. Apparently if I try to use any of the links on the website to get this information it takes me to a page where I need to fill in a form. \$\endgroup\$
    – quantum231
    May 15 '13 at 14:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, the marketing people for these sorts of products like to put up barriers (such as web forms) in order to separate the serious customers from the idly curious. It takes a lot of effort to support the users of this type of product, and they need to be able to focus their energy where it will do the most good. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    May 15 '13 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaveTweed, can you see any advantage to this over a couple of virtex 6s? I wonder why they didn't just use a smaller number of bigger FPGAs. \$\endgroup\$
    – stanri
    May 15 '13 at 14:54

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