Journal article Open Access

In-the-Field Mitigation of Process Variability for Improved FPGA Performance

Maragos, Konstantinos; Lentaris, George; Soudris, Dimitrios

The mitigation of process variability becomes paramount as chip fabrication advances deeper into the sub-micron regime. Conservative guard-bands result in considerable performance loss, while most low-level solutions impede dynamic customization at application level. This paper exploits the existing process variability of commercial off-the-shelf FPGAs to improve the operating frequency of a design, in-the-field, at anytime during the lifetime of a chip. We begin by measuring variability in prevalent FPGAs and assessing its impact on the performance of common DSP benchmarks. For the former, we develop a custom sensing network of Ring-Oscillators to generate detailed 2D maps per chip. For the latter, we perform intensive testing and statistical analysis to establish the relation between variability maps and benchmark frequencies. Accordingly, we propose a framework to automatically characterize the user's devices, place the design on the most efficient region, and scale its frequency based on user requirements and functional verification. Experimental results on 20 FPGAs of 28 nm Xilinx technology show up to 13 percent intra-die and 30 percent inter-die variability; with limited cost, our framework provides 10-14.7 percent average gain by exploiting such variability, or up to 56-138 percent by also customizing the guard-band.

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