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International Journal of Reconfigurable Computing
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 418750, 17 pages
Research Article

IP-Enabled C/C++ Based High Level Synthesis: A Step towards Better Designer Productivity and Design Performance

CHiPES, School of Computer Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798

Received 16 August 2013; Accepted 5 November 2013; Published 8 January 2014

Academic Editor: Nadia Nedjah

Copyright © 2014 Sharad Sinha and Thambipillai Srikanthan. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Intellectual property (IP) core based design is an emerging design methodology to deal with increasing chip design complexity. C/C++ based high level synthesis (HLS) is also gaining traction as a design methodology to deal with increasing design complexity. In the work presented here, we present a design methodology that combines these two individual methodologies and is therefore more powerful. We discuss our proposed methodology in the context of supporting efficient hardware synthesis of a class of mathematical functions without altering original C/C++ source code. Additionally, we also discuss and propose methods to integrate legacy IP cores in existing HLS flows. Relying on concepts from the domains of program recognition and optimized low level implementations of such arithmetic functions, the described design methodology is a step towards intelligent synthesis where application characteristics are matched with specific architectural resources and relevant IP cores in a transparent manner for improved area-delay results. The combined methodology is more aware of the target hardware architecture than the conventional HLS flow. Implementation results of certain compute kernels from a commercial tool Vivado-HLS as well as proposed flow are also compared to show that proposed flow gives better results.

1. Introduction

C/C++ based high level synthesis has been gaining momentum to deal with the increasing design complexity. Various academic [1, 2] and commercial tools [3, 4] have been introduced. Similarly, intellectual property (IP) core based design has also been proposed to deal with increasing design complexity. Since IP cores are preverified and optimized for a specific task and in some cases can also be configured to support different compute modes; they ease the task of a designer. IP reuse is another dominant factor in evolving design methodologies to deal with design complexity as well as smaller time to market (TTM) windows. We propose a design methodology in this paper that combines IP based design with HLS. We focus on smaller IP cores which typically implement some arithmetic function. A representative list of standard arithmetic in-built functions available in C/C++ is shown in Table 1. The complete list can be found in [5, 6]. It is the IP cores at this level of granularity that we use in the current work. In Section 5, we discuss extending our approach to larger IP cores.

Table 1: Representative list of standard arithmetic functions in C/C++.

Traditional HLS flow involves the processes of resource allocation, scheduling, and hardware binding. Every operation in the C/C++ description is treated as an atomic level operation and the bigger operations, like those involving the in-built functions, are replaced by their atomic level descriptions thus resulting in a flattened description of complete design. By atomic level operation, we mean addition, subtraction, multiplication, comparison, and so forth. This methodology completely ignores the fact that hardware design is different from software design. Specifically, it ignores the fact that there can be optimized hardware implementations (IP cores) of those bigger operations. Therefore, it is unable to generate RTL microarchitecture that is closer in spirit to the target hardware; instead, the generated RTL microarchitecture is closer in spirit to the software description. As a specific example, HLS flows assume that transcendental functions like sine(), cosine(), and so forth will be replaced by their equivalent polynomial expansions or replaced by some other methods like the Higher Order Table Based Method (HOTBM) [7]. In either case, these replacements are still described in C/C++. Equations (1) show the polynomial expansion of sine() and cosine() operators, respectively, for an angle x radians. Consider Synthesizing such polynomials can not only be expensive in terms of area but also result in poor timing. The number of terms in these expansions affects the accuracy of the calculations and, with bit growth allowed, such implementations can consume a lot of resources. Also, even when other methods like HOTBM are used, since it is their description in C/C++ that will be synthesized using atomic operations, they are not as efficient as predefined and verified hardware specific IP cores for the same purpose. It would be ideal if such operations are mapped to corresponding hardware IP cores which are typically optimized implementations with considerations of parallelism, throughput, and so forth. Also, the designer can be free from the concern related to the number of terms in the polynomial. Thus, such an IP core can facilitate calculation over a wide range of input arguments without the designer having to worry about the number of terms. For other cases, like linear algebra operations involving matrix computations, FPGA device family specific IP cores are available which have been optimized for these device families [8]. We show in this paper that mapping matrix operations to these IP cores during the HLS phase give better performance results than the traditional HLS flow.

The main contributions of the work presented in this paper can be summarized as follows.(i)To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work that presents a C/C++ based HLS design methodology using IP cores.(ii)It presents a methodology that relies on existing compilation techniques to quickly identify in-built functions in C/C++ for mapping them to their efficient hardware implementations thus facilitating a more hardware aware mapping.(iii)It presents an automatic graph matching based approach to identify matrix operations in C/C++ design descriptions which can then be mapped to relevant target architecture specific IP cores. It also proposed a new compiler optimization called Pointer Condense to deal with program variation in matrix operation code.(iv)It proposes and discusses an adaptive compilation strategy embedded in HLS flow to deal with legacy IP cores as well as proprietary IP cores that companies use in real-world applications.(v)All of the above is achieved without altering original C/C++ source code thus increasing designer productivity and facilitating an easy C/C++ hardware translation.

2. Background and Related Work

2.1. High Level Synthesis

High level synthesis (HLS) has been a widely researched area. The most useful surveys and tutorials can be found in [911]. We cover in brief research in HLS for the sake of completeness. High level synthesis includes three main steps: resource allocation, scheduling, and hardware binding. Resource allocation involves allocating functional units like adder, subtractor, multiplier and so forth and communication resources like buses and multiplexers and storage resources like registers and on-chip memory. Allocation of resources is not an algorithmic step but it refers to the use of the aforementioned resources to perform the operations present in the application as well as to make connections between those resources. It should be noted here that so far the functional units have been atomic level performing some basic operation. Scheduling step involves ordering in time the operations present in an application. The aim of scheduling is to reduce the number of control steps required to compute the output of the application. More than one operation can execute in each control-step. A number of scheduling approaches have been proposed in the research literature with notable ones being As Soon As Possible (ASAP) As Late As Possible (ALAP), and force directed scheduling [12, 13]. Another prominent scheduling algorithm based on system of difference constraints was proposed in [14]. It can be found implemented in Leg-Up [15] and it also forms the basis of the scheduling algorithm implemented in [3]. Hardware binding involves binding the allocated resources to operations present in the application. Binding one resource to each operation is a trivial task. Therefore, techniques have been investigated to bind the resources to operations with the objective of reducing the number resources used. This would lead to a reduction in hardware area which is favorable in many cases. Therefore, hardware binding algorithms have looked at simultaneous binding of functional units and registers to reduce the area and consequently reduce the number of interconnects. Hardware binding based on weighted bipartite matching (WBM) [16], network flow method [17], compatibility path based (CPB) [18, 19], and so forth, has been proposed. Note that in all these algorithms, the operations in an application are bound to atomic level functional units. Once hardware binding is complete, then register transfer level (RTL) description of the design is automatically generated.

2.2. Intellectual Property (IP) Core Based Design

Intellectual property core based design and design reuse is a widely debated topic in the semiconductor industry though there is not much research on a proper design methodology. While almost everyone agrees that it has the potential to reduce efforts to deal with design complexity and is the way forward, research work published so far is relatively new and has instead largely focused on IP protection techniques using watermarking [20, 21], fingerprinting [22] and on verification techniques for such designs [23]. There has also been work done on creating a repository of IP cores like UMIPS [24]. There have been concerns in the industry regarding different IP description methods adopted by different IP vendors as this inhibits rapid use and a standardized flow for IP core based designs. Therefore, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) introduced the IP-XACT standard [25] to enable a standard way of describing IP cores thus facilitating their integration with design tools. While the work presented here is focused more on identification of code segments which can be mapped to IP cores during HLS, we do discuss the impact of a standard way of describing IP with respect to selecting one IP core from among many others during the mapping phase after identification.

Previous work on IP based hardware design has also focused on evaluating and selecting an IP for a given requirement. It has also been referred to as component based design. In [26], the authors have investigated system level design space exploration to select different components for different blocks of a system. They modeled digital systems as communication task graphs [27] and formulated the task of IP selection as a bicriteria convex cost flow problem in an incremental design space exploration methodology with online refinement. However, their methodology for IP selection relies on a convex piecewise linear curve for each component. This neglects the fact that an IP core or a component will have features and options which cannot be represented by a number, for instance, the maximum and the minimum bit-width, the internal serial or parallel configuration, rounding mode, and so forth. Simulation based IP core selection has been studied in [28]. This also has the same drawback as in [27] besides being computationally intensive for system with large number of components. Another work [29] looks at augmenting the IP-XACT description of IP cores and then searching the database for SoC design based on requirements similarity. It should be noted here that in all these previous works, it is assumed that the component for which an IP core needs to be selected is known a priori. A major contribution of the work presented in this paper is that it does not assume any prior knowledge of components required in a design.

2.3. Program Recognition

Program recognition is a branch of study in computer science that seeks to understand what a program does by analyzing and studying the source code. It relies on lexical and semantic analysis of the source code as well as algorithm recognition. An excellent reference in this area is the work on automatic algorithm recognition and replacement [30] which focuses on such efforts directed at software optimization. In the work proposed here, we have tried to investigate the same principle but applied to hardware optimization in a high level synthesis flow. Lexical and semantic analysis of the source code can tell us which in-built functions available in a language have been used. Since in-built functions are standard, their interpretation is also constant and does not lead to any program variation with respect to their functionality. For instance, the function cos() in C would always return the cosine value of a parameter of data type double and the function cosf() in C would always return the cosine value of a parameter of data type float. Since the in-built functions implement some algorithm to complete some computational process, for instance calculating the cosine value of some parameter x, the identification of in-built functions can be equated with algorithm recognition. Once these functions are identified and the algorithms thus recognized, they can be matched to optimized hardware implementations which achieve the same purpose. It should be noted here that the actual algorithm used (in a source language like C) to complete a computational process is not important because the optimized hardware implementation may or may not have used the same algorithm.

In [31], the authors have investigated a new approach to DSP intrinsics for DSP processors. Here, also they have tried to identify specific instructions from a compiler’s IR and promote them to C-keywords. Intrinsics were developed because often an engineer would like to use a target specific instruction in code, but there is no way to describe that instruction in C/C++. In its most basic form, an intrinsic is an asm statement as found in gcc [32]. This concept is similar to the fact that a HLS user may not be aware of the different optimized IP cores available for different sets of operations in C and that there is no way to describe them in a language like C/C+. In [33], a very recent work, the authors have looked at program recognition in order to parallelize sequential programs. They use a precompiler phase which processes specific keywords in the main source code and replaces chosen sequential algorithms with their parallel implementations selected from a database. They have assumed that most programmers are either unable or unwilling to write parallel implementations of their sequential code. This assumption is valid even for HLS use, the case which the current work addresses. Most HLS users might be comfortable in describing an algorithm in C/C++ but they would not be aware of corresponding hardware implementations because they are outside their domain expertise. Even for hardware designers, who adopt HLS, the barrier that existing design flows have to exploiting optimized IP cores gives rise to issues with performance optimization. It is only sufficient to mention that the workload of these two classes of designers can be significantly reduced if knowledge about IP cores is somehow embedded in the compilation phase instead of them having to adopt some ad hoc way of identifying candidates for IP core implementation in the source code.

It has also been mentioned in [34] that program and algorithm recognition can play an important role in hardware-software codesign.

2.4. Compiler-Specific Pattern Based Synthesis

Pattern based high level synthesis has been investigated in [35] where the authors propose an algorithm to find recurring patterns in an application through subgraph enumeration, pruning and matching techniques in compute intensive applications. These patterns are then mapped to FPGAs. In [36], the authors have proposed a scheduling methodology based on behavioral templates which are essentially subgraphs. Here also, the templates are created by enumerating the CDFG of an application. Research in [3741] and so forth is all focused on different methods to identify potential custom instructions based on graph processing techniques applied to the CDFG of an application. Thus, this class of work is focused on finding often repeated patterns in application where the patterns are either generated by enumeration or taken from a library of available patterns and finally subgraph matching is performed. However, the patterns used are small with maximum size being 40 nodes in [35]. Subgraph matching has its own drawback as it requires the patterns in the library to be very precise. Also, the compilation step may generate a pattern which would be functionally identical to a pattern in a library but structurally dissimilar thus making it impossible to match. Also, since different compilers may generate the intermediate representation (IR) in different ways, patterns in a predefined and compiler-unaware library may have a reduced significance; as such patterns may not appear in the IR. The problem with enumeration based pattern finding and matching is that even in this case the design flow has to rely on a predefined set of rules to enumerate patterns during the enumeration phase. This can lead to a large number of patterns which may not necessarily yield any advantage. Also, it is extremely difficult to construct a set of rules to describe a pattern that matches any IP core as the number of rules is likely to be large given the different options to configure and describe an IP core. The work closest to using the concept of compiler-aware library is [31] where the authors have looked at writing DSP intrinsics to the compiler’s IR and promoting them as C-keywords for code targeted to a DSP processor.

Since in any HLS flow, there will be a compilation step involved, in the current work, we propose a compiler-specific pattern finding and matching approach. Thus, in the real world, any HLS vendor will only need to define a set of patterns which is specific to the underlying compilation process. We demonstrate this approach for linear algebra operations involving matrix operations under the LLVM compiler [42] framework. This approach distinguishes the current work from others.

3. Proposed IP-Enabled C/C++ HLS Design Flow

We propose a design flow where candidate code segments for mapping to IP cores are selected at two different levels of analysis. The first level involves algorithm recognition and here lexical and semantic analysis of the source code and the symbol table [43] used by the compiler come into action. The second level involves pattern-matching at the IR level. The complete design flow is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Proposed IP-enabled C/C++ HLS flow.

The proposed design flow is based on LLVM [42] compiler framework. Control and dataflow graph (CDFG) forms the IR of an application.

3.1. Lexical and Semantic Analysis for In-Built Functions

In this step, the symbol table generated as a result of lexical and semantic analyses phases of the compilation process is analyzed to locate calls to those in-built functions in C/C++ which are listed in Table 1. These function calls also show up in the IR. The lexical analysis phase parses the source code to generate identifiers like variable names, operation symbols, reserved words (like in-built functions), and so forth. The semantic analysis phase analyses the context in which an identifier is used, for instance, as a variable or a procedure, and so forth. These help in generating the symbol table where each identifier is stored as a symbol along with its usage as a variable, procedure and so forth, its data type, number of and list of parameters if used as a procedure, return data type, and so forth. Thus, at this step, there is complete information about the different in-built functions that are used in a given C/C++ application.

3.2. Identification of Linear Algebra Operations

We identify the linear algebra operations involving matrix operations by processing the different basic blocks (BB) in the IR for nested loop identification and thereafter subgraph matching as shown in the design flow. Matrix operations are chosen because they are found in a number of applications. Each basic block is a sequence of operations and has only one entry and exit point. The algorithm to identify the matrix operations is given in Section 3.3.

3.2.1. Structure of Linear Algebra Operations in LLVM IR

We solve the matrix operation identification problem for matrix multiplication of different kinds as well as matrix addition and subtraction. Matrix multiplication can be classified into (a) matrix-matrix multiplication, (b) matrix-vector multiplication, and (c) matrix scaling where a matrix is multiplied by a constant. Vector-vector multiplication is a special case of matrix-matrix multiplication.

Algorithm 1 shows the for-loop code for matrix-matrix multiplication in C for matrices. Algorithm 2 shows the code for matrix-vector multiplication. Algorithm 3 shows the code for matrix scaling. For a matrix-matrix addition, the for-loop is shown in Algorithm 4. It is the same for matrix-matrix subtraction with addition operator replaced by subtraction operator. Figures 2, 3, 4, and 5 show the loop body IR as a directed acyclic graph (DAG) for the code segments in Algorithms 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively. It can be seen that the actual multiplication or addition or subtraction code block is always in the innermost for-loop of a nested block of for-loops.

Algorithm 1: For-loop code for 2 2 matrix-matrix multiplication in C.

Algorithm 2: For-loop code for a matrix-vector multiplication.

Algorithm 3: For-loop code for scaling a 2 2 matrix.

Algorithm 4: For-loop code for 2 2 matrix-matrix addition in C.

Figure 2: Directed acyclic graph (DAG) of IR for matrix-matrix multiplication.
Figure 3: Directed acyclic graph (DAG) of IR for matrix-vector multiplication.
Figure 4: Directed acyclic graph (DAG) of IR for matrix scaling.
Figure 5: Directed acyclic graph (DAG) of IR for matrix-matrix addition/subtraction.

Loop Identification. The first step in identifying matrix multiplication operations in the IR is to identify the loops. Loop identification is a well-established technique in compiler design [43]. The dominator tree analysis is used for this purpose. For the different kinds of matrix multiplication (a), (b), or (c) mentioned in the beginning of this section, there are different levels of dominating loops with the inner most loop being most dominated. We use “Lx” where x is a number to indicate the level of domination of a loop with a higher value of x meaning a higher domination of the said loop by other loops. Thus, (loop k) is the most dominated loop while (loop i) is the least and dominates both (loop j) and as in Algorithm 1.

Matrix Size Calculation. The size of the matrices being multiplied and of the vector in case of matrix-vector multiplication is determined from the loop iteration limits. Therefore, if the iteration limit for loops L1, L2 and L3, is I1, I2, and I3, respectively, then the matrix sizes, that is, total number of elements and the number of rows and the number of columns, are given in Table 2.

Table 2: Matrix size determination for matrix-matrix multiplication.

In the case of matrix multiplied by a vector or a vector multiplied by a matrix, there are only two loops L1 and L2 with iteration limits I1 and I2, respectively. L2 is considered the innermost loop. In case of a matrix multiplied by a vector, the sizes are given in Table 3. In case of a vector multiplied by a matrix, the sizes are given in Tables 4 and 5 which show the sizes for matrix scaling.

Table 3: Matrix size determination for matrix-vector multiplication.
Table 4: Matrix size determination for vector-matrix multiplication.
Table 5: Matrix size determination for matrix scaling.

In case of matrix-matrix addition or subtraction, there are only two loops L1 and L2 with iteration limits I1 and I2, respectively. L2 is considered the innermost loop. The sizes are determined as follows:

GEP() stands for the “getelementpointer inbounds” instruction in LLVM. It is a memory instruction that fetches the address of the array locations which store the matrix elements.

3.3. Algorithm for Identification of Matrix Operations

Since the size of matrices can be determined as shown in Tables 2, 3, 4, and 5, the relevant IP cores can be configured automatically in the design flow. We discuss this in more detail in Section 3.4 and Algorithm 5.

Algorithm 5: Identification of matrix operations in LLVM IR.

3.3.1. Dealing with Program Variation

The directed acyclic graph representation (DAG) of IR shown in Figures 2, 3, 4, and 5 represents the C/C++ code as shown in Algorithms 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively. A key issue to address here is the structure of the DAGs when code is not written as demonstrated in these figures or when additional statements are inserted in the loop body. These additional statements could be unrelated to matrix operations or the matrix operation could be executed on more than one matrix or they could be some form of manual optimization, for instance, more than one matrix multiplication in the same loop body. The code segments shown in Algorithms 1, 2, 3, and 4 are the easiest way of coding the relevant matrix operation from a software perspective. Thus, when one is building an executable specification of a design in C/C++ and using HLS to map it to hardware (FPGA or ASIC), it is not necessary to write an optimized C/C++ implementation because the target of such a design description is not a processor but mapping to hardware. The executable nature of the specification is needed only to verify the hardware mapping against execution results from the C/C++ description to ensure functional correctness. The matrix operation DAGs as shown earlier will always be present in the loop body DAG irrespective of any other code in the loop body. Thus, the matrix operation DAGs can always be located in the innermost loop body IR.

Loop Fission. Traditionally loop fission optimization can be applied to cases of more than one matrix multiplication (or any other matrix operation) being done in the same loop body, assuming that the relevant matrices are all of similar sizes. This would replicate the loop constructs while putting each matrix operation in a different loop construct. However, we do not adopt this approach because in our graph matching based approach more than one instance of matrix multiplication (or any other matrix operation) DAG will be easily found. Similarly, if the loop body code has a mix of different matrix operations, instances of each DAG type can be found.

Different Loop Constructs. Loops can be constructed using do-while and while constructs also in C/C++. For each of these constructs, the loop body IR is different from the loop body IR for for-loops. However, the matrix operation DAGs are still present in the innermost loop body IRs in the same form as shown in Figures 2, 3, 4, and 5. Thus, it does not matter which loop construct is used to form the loops.

Loop Rerolling. If the loop body is partially unrolled in the code, we apply the loop-rerolling [44] optimization. This is because loop unrolling obscures the underlying computation algorithm (for example matrix multiplication) and as such DAG matching will fail. Loop rerolling cannot be applied to completely unrolled loops because there is no loop in the code in such cases. The unrolling is visible to and understood by only the designer.

Data Structure Variation. The C codes given for different matrix operations make use of arrays whose elements are accessed in the usual way of accessing array elements. However, there are two main variations in data structure: the array elements can be accessed using pointers even when declared as arrays and (2) the array elements are accessed using pointers when the two-dimensional matrices’ arrays are declared using pointers. Typically, pointer based operations and matrices will be required only for code targeting a processor and involving large matrices. For HLS, one can safely stick to the usual access methods irrespective of the size of matrices. Nevertheless, we have addressed this issue for the sake of accommodating different programming styles by introducing a new compiler optimization pass specifically for HLS. Equation (3) shows three equivalent ways of accessing a memory element : These three different ways of accessing an array element lead to different numbers of GEP() instruction in LLVM IR. involves two GEP() while requires three GEP() and needs four GEP() instructions. The easiest way to accommodate these program variations would be to define three different DAGs corresponding to each type of memory access. However, that would add to the DAG database as well as lead to additional time in the execution of DAG matching. The additional increase in the size of the DAGs would also add to the execution time. Therefore, to deal with this program variation, we have developed a compiler optimization pass called Pointer Condense. This pass converts both and to during semantic analysis phase applied to the syntax tree using the symbol table when is an array.

3.4. Intellectual Property (IP) Core View

The IP core view is a view of the IP that provides information on its configurable as well as static attributes. The attributes are separated into computation and noncomputation attributes. The computation attributes are those which are essential and necessary for computation operations within the IP core to take place. They include available input-output port bit-widths, supported rounding modes, and any internal precision attribute. The noncomputation attributes are those which are not essential and necessary for computation operations within the IP core to take place. They include area (in terms of LUT when FPGA is the target architecture), maximum clock frequency, serial and parallel interfaces, latency, and throughput. The list of computation and noncomputation attributes is determined by the commonly used parameters for IP cores targeted in the work presented here. Attributes like input-output port bit-widths, supported rounding modes, serial and parallel interfaces, use of LUT or DSP blocks for multiplication, and so forth, can be configurable depending upon the nature of an IP core. We assume that these attributes have already been extracted from the IP-XACT [25] description of the IP cores. We use these attributes to arrange the IP cores in an IP core library. Since timing is critical and is the most important in any design, the IP cores are arranged based on their maximum clock frequencies. IP cores which have no configurable attributes will have only one maximum frequency because such cores cannot be configured to yield a different design internally. Only those IP cores which have at least one configurable attribute may have more than one maximum clock frequency. We use the maximum clock frequency as the head of a linked-list that stores the IP attributes. For any function f which is a candidate for IP core implementation, the different IP cores can be described as shown in Table 6. Note that the number of available attributes for different IP cores needs not be same. Some IP cores may have architecture attributes like serial or parallel. These are different from interface attributes. We do not show all the attributes in Table 6 for brevity. Also, the IP core selection algorithm, as discussed in Section 3.5, does not use any attribute information besides maximum clock frequency, rounding mode, and input and output bit-widths.

Table 6: A function and corresponding IP cores.

As can be seen in Table 6, there are a total of 4 different IP cores that can perform function f. IP Core2 has 2 configurations and each can support two different rounding modes RND(M1) and RND(M2) for a total of four configurations. The input and the output port bit-widths are different for these two configurations and so is the interface (serial versus parallel). The only design constraints that are required to walk on the linked-lists are the required clock frequency, , and the required rounding mode, RND (req).

Description like in Table 6 is maintained for each FPGA device architecture in the IP library and therefore the flow takes into account whether a particular function f has support for IP core in a target FPGA device or not.

3.5. IP Core Selection

The IP core selection space is pruned in a hierarchical way by walking over their linked list descriptions. First stage of pruning involves checking for the truth of the inequality given in (4) below, where is the maximum clock frequency of an IP core configuration The second stage of pruning involves checking for the truth of the equality given in These are applied successively on each linked-list. Those configurations that satisfy (4) and (5) are further examined for the cost metric called Difference of Attributes (DoA) as given in Here, refers to the node (or set of nodes) which is being mapped to an IP core and k is the kth IP core that can implement the function in that node (or set of nodes).   and are the attribute vectors that store the input port bit-widths and the output port bit-widths. The scaling factor of gives more weight to input port bit-widths because if input port sizes do not match then the IP configuration is unusable. While output bit-width is also important, we give it less importance because a full precision calculation may not always be required. Hence, even if output bit-width is not to full precision, the input bit-width is still important so as to not lose precision on the input. The upper summation limit t is the sum of the numbers of input and output ports. We restrict the results in this paper to two input and one output ports. The IP core configuration that yields the minimum DoA value is selected for mapping. This would lead to one design point corresponding to the selected IP core configuration. However, we would like to point out here that this very approach can be used for a localized, IP core level design space exploration. As long as DoA > 0, the corresponding IP core configuration can be used in the design.

Area Reduction by IP Core Resolution. Let there be operations f1 and f2 to be computed in the same control step in the schedule. Let these operations belong to Table 1 so that they are candidates for mapping to IP cores. It is possible that some IP cores can provide more than one output at the same time on the same set of inputs. For instance, there could be an IP core that can compute both sine and cosine simultaneously for a given input. An example of such an IP core is the CORDIC IP core provided by Xilinx [45]. In an application, if f1 and f2 are two such operations which are scheduled in the same control step and they share the same input, then they could be mapped to an IP core which computes both simultaneously. Therefore, once the code candidates for mapping to IP cores have been identified (Sections 3.2, 3.3), we implement IP Core Dependency Resolution Algorithm (Algorithm 6).

Algorithm 6: IP core dependency resolution algorithm.

The reason for doing this is that it can lead to reduced area. Instead of using two different IP cores or two instances of the same IP core (because it can implement both functions f1 and f2), only one IP core can be used since the operations f1 and f2 are scheduled in the same control step and have the same inputs.

3.6. Interface Synthesis

Since we slice away a part of the IR for implementation using IP cores from a library while the remaining IR is implemented using the traditional atomic level hardware binding method, it is important to account for interface synthesis for the point where the IR was sliced away and the point where the IP core output joins the IR. The interface is characterized by data interface and control interface. Data interface describes the input-output port sizes, data types (signed, unsigned, single precision, double precision, etc.) and whether the input-output ports are serial, parallel, or some other configuration. Control interface describes the control signals necessary for input and output of data to and from the IP core.

Once an IP core is selected as described in Section 3.5, interface synthesis takes place. If the operation identified for mapping to IP core is the only operation in the design, then different microarchitectures corresponding to the different interfaces supported by the selected IP core can be generated leading to an area-delay tradeoff curve. For instance, if a matrix operation is the only operation in the C/C++ description of the application and if the target device is a Xilinx Virtex-6, Virtex-7, or Kintex-7 FPGA, then the Xilinx linear algebra IP core supports both serial and parallel input-output for data. Thus, the design flow returns different microarchitectures corresponding to each interface provided the relations in (4) and (5) (Section 3.5) are satisfied. Additionally, if there exist additional IP core configuration attributes like serial or parallel architecture, the design flow returns even more microarchitectures provided again (4) and (5) are satisfied. As can be seen in Table 6, each possible configuration of an IP core that can implement a function f is stored as a linked-list in the IP library. Thus, the design flow returns as many microarchitectures as successful (satisfying (4) and (5)) configurations of one IP core or more.

On the other hand, if the application has other operations besides those listed in Table 1, then the interface synthesis involves understanding the control and data flow at the points where the CDFG was sliced for the sliced portion to be implemented in an IP core. Therefore, in this case, a further pruning of IP cores selected in Section 3.5 is done. The input data to the IP core can come from the previous computation nodes in the CDFG or they can come from some memory block. In either case, the latency and the throughput attributes of the IP core are taken into account. Note that latency and throughput are functions of the IP core’s internal architecture which may be a configurable attribute (serial or parallel architecture). Typically, all IP cores will have an elementary set of control signals to signal to the sender and the receiver modules the readiness to receive new set of input data from the sender and the readiness to send a new set of valid output data to the receiver. This information related to the flow control mechanism of the selected IP core is used in the design flow to design the state machine for the datapath. A part of the state machine relevant to the IP core section of the design is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: A part of the state machine for datapath in the presence of an IP core.

In Figure 6, S(p) refers to the state machine state prior to IP core computation phase and S(l) refers to the state later than IP core computation phase. The format a/b stands for input signal a to state and state output signal b when input signal a is present. Ready for data (RFD) is a control signal in which the IP core asserts when it is ready to receive a new set of input data. ND stands for new data which the previous state asserts while sending data in to the IP core.

As can be seen that there is only output control signal RDY (stands for ready with valid output) from the state in which IP core computation is performed. This signal is automatically asserted by the IP core after it has calculated the valid output data. The state machine in Figure 6 transitions from one state to another, that is, state S(p) to state S(c) to state S(l) based on the different control flow signals. Any additional flow control signals that the IP core has can be easily integrated in the three states.

If the data to the IP core comes from memory blocks, then choosing between (or if possible both) serial and parallel data interface is a matter of how the memory blocks are arranged. The sequence of instructions GEP > GEP > LOAD as present in the DAGs shown in Figures 2, 3, 4, and 5 are actually memory read operations. In a typical HLS flow, the matrices will be stored in arrays and mapped to a memory, for example, block RAM (BRAM) on Xilinx FPGAs. Thus, this sequence of instructions would translate into read from these BRAMs. For the case of different kinds of matrix operations, the depth of the BRAM will be equal to the size of the matrices as given in Tables 2, 3, 4, and 5 and (2). Depending on the type of memory (single port, simple dual port, true dual port, and RAM/ROM), the interface for the IP core is selected. We do not discuss mapping of arrays to memory blocks and selection of appropriate memory blocks as it is outside the scope of the current work.

Since the actual mapping to an IP core is done during the hardware binding phase in HLS flow, the information on the type of memory used for matrices is already available. Hence, the interface in the selected IP core is appropriately chosen. If the memory is a single port RAM or a simple dual port RAM or a true dual port RAM, serial interface on the IP core is automatically selected. Absolute addressing is used to generate addresses that are needed to read from the input matrices’ BRAM and to write to the output matrix BRAM. Address generation for reading from input matrices and writing to output matrices is part of state S(c) in the state machine in Figure 6. The number of addresses to be generated for input and output matrices is given by the size of left, right, and product matrices as given in Tables 2, 3, 4, and 5 and (2).

3.7. Scheduling in the Presence of IP Cores

Once the matrix operation patterns and the keywords have been identified and extracted from the CDFG IR, the CDFG needs to be scheduled. Every IP core will have a latency and a throughput attribute associated with it. These attributes can take up different values depending on whether the architecture of the core is configurable or not. Since the library of IP cores has information on IP cores in a very structured manner, the scheduling step can easily query the library. It is evident from an examination of commonly available IP cores provided by FPGA vendors not only for the class of operations discussed in this paper but also for other functions that the IP cores can be sequential multicycle in nature or combinational multicycle. We use the SDC based scheduling [14] because it can easily take care of IP cores. We do not discuss research in scheduling further as it is outside the scope of the current work.

4. Experimental Setup, Results, and Their Discussion

A set of compute kernels in different applications involving different in-built C/C++ functions and matrix operations were selected. We show the area and clock frequency results for the compute kernels when mapped using a commercial HLS tool (Vivado-HLS version 2012.4) and when mapped under our proposed flow using IP cores to Xilinx FPGA devices. Table 7 shows the synthesis and implementation results for sqrt(), abs(), and integer divide that is div() in-built functions in C which were implemented as top modules so that design space exploration could also be performed.

Table 7: Mapping of some representative in-built C functions.

Table 8 shows the results for matrix multiplication using the traditional flow (v-HLS) and the proposed flow. Table 9 shows the results for exponential decay(exp-decay)benchmark using single precision floating point (SPFP) data. Exponential decay is given by (7) and is widely used in studying radioactive decay, RC-circuit analysis, and so forth. Consider In (7), is some quantity measured at time t, is the same quantity measured at time t = 0, α is the decay constant and t is time.

Table 8: Mapping of Matrix Multiplication Operation.
Table 9: Mapping of exponential decay formula.

Table 10 shows the synthesis and implementation results for a formula used to calculate great circle distance (GC) [46]. This formula returns the central angle between two geographical locations and is widely used in global positioning systems (GPS) and is given in (8). Only the parameter of cos−1 has been synthesized to maintain fairness with the v-HLS tool which does not support synthesis of cos−1. Consider

Table 10: Mapping of greater circle distance formula.

In (8), lat1, and lat2 stand for latitude1 and latitude2, respectively, while lon1 and lon2 stand for longitude1 and longitude2, respectively, and they correspond to two different geographical locations on the surface of the earth.

4.1. Discussion of Results

In Table 7, we see that when bound to the IP core, the synthesis and implementation results are better not only for area (LUT, FF, etc.) and maximum clock frequency but also for latency. The square root function was mapped to a hardware IP core for Xilinx FPGAs. One main reason why the v-HLS flow resulted in high area values is because it converted 32-bit integer to 64-bit double while using the in-built C implementation of sqrt() function. This clearly demonstrates that such an approach which ignores hardware level IP and instead relies on software level algorithmic description for in-built functions may not result in efficient synthesis and implementation. For the integer divide function div(), we again see that the proposed IP based flow results in better area, clock, latency, and throughput measures. It can also be seen that 6 different designs (D1 to D6) could be generated because at least 6 different configuration of the Xilinx divider IP core satisfied the conditions during IP selection phase as described in Section 3.5.

Results in Table 8, which shows the synthesis and implementation results for matrix multiplication operations, show that it is possible to generate multiple designs even when using Vivado-HLS flow, but these were obtained by manually altering the source code. Nevertheless, their latency and throughput results are very poor and some of them require memory blocks external to the compute block for the entire matrix multiplication exercise to yield results. On the other hand, graph based pattern matching resulted in three different designs corresponding to three different configurations of the Xilinx linear algebra toolkit IP core [8] without altering the source code. Also, their latency and throughput metrics were far better than the ones from traditional flow for the same clock period constraint though at the expense of some increase in area.

Results in Table 9 show that at least 5 different designs could be achieved using the different configuration of the IP core for exp() calculation and all satisfied the same clock period specification of 5 ns with no clock jitter (clock uncertainty). The Vivado-HLS flow resulted in around 40% less LUTs but at least 400% more DSP blocks. On the other hand, the designs using proposed flow used more LUTs but a lot less DSP blocks. This demonstrates the fact the tradeoff between DSP block and LUT could be the result of variation in the internal design of the IP core and the type of C-implementation of exp() function. The IP core used for exp() calculation made use of CORDIC IP core for Xilinx FPGAs. Nevertheless, it is evident from the results that the designs with hardware IP core achieved better clock frequency with around 40% faster clock and around 50% higher throughput. Xilinx Virtex-7 was used for this experiment because Vivado-HLS (version 2012.4) does not support the synthesis of exp() function for Virtex-4.

In Table 10, the Vivado-HLS result shows the estimated (Est) clock period for synthesis and implementation of the greater circle distance benchmark. This is so because the LUT utilization of 22522 is so high that this design could not fit into the target device. Again, these numbers are high because the v-HLS flow used single precision floating point for implementation because that is how the C based implementations of sin() and cosine() were available. Three designs were generated as per our proposed flow and they used only 4 DSP blocks while the LUT utilization varied from 3113 to 8567 depending on the IP core configuration. The IP core used was the Xilinx CORDIC IP core. All the designs could meet the clock specification of 5.5 ns period with zero clock jitter. When the polynomial expansions of sin() and cos() were used, the DSP utilization was 16 and 21 for 3 terms and 4 terms in the expansion, respectively. When DSP blocks were not used, their LUT utilization was higher than two of the IP core based designs. However, the two polynomial expansion based designs did not meet the timing specification. The latency figures for the IP core based design are also much better ranging from 18 to 50 for the three design versus 109 for Vivado-HLS and 41 and 51 for polynomial based synthesis. It should be noted here that in this particular case, algorithm for area reduction by IP core resolution (Section 3.5, Algorithm 6) in the flow resulted in lesser area because sin() and cos() are calculated for both lat1 and lat2 in the benchmark. Hence, instead of using separate CORDIC IP core for each, which would have resulted in a total of 4 instances of the core, only 2 instances were used thus leading to area savings.

4.1.1. IP Core Characterization

We would like to point out here that rigorous characterization of IP cores is very important especially with respect to their timing characterization for various configurations. It is this information that is crucial in the design flow and it affects all stages, from IP core selection to the synthesis of interfaces to calculation of latency and throughput. As an example, Table 11 shows the different configurable parameters of the Xilinx CORDIC IP core [45].

Table 11: Configurable parameters in Xilinx CORDIC IP core.

Not all configurable parameters will be available for all functions supported by the Xilinx CORDIC IP core. At the same time, some parameters cannot be configured when a particular parameter is selected. For instance, when configured for square root operation with 32 bit unsigned integer input, the output width is automatically set to 17 in the core and the architectural configuration is set to parallel. On the other hand, both input and output widths are configurable for sin() calculation. This nature of the IP core is typical of the way IP cores are developed and can be trivially observed in many available IP cores. Table 12 shows the configurable parameters and possible values when Xilinx CORDIC IP core is used to map the sqrt() function.

Table 12: Available configurable parameters for Xilinx CORDIC IP core implementing sqrt() function.

For experimental results reported in this paper, we performed the characterization of this core for the different functions that were looked at namely, sqrt(), sin(), and cos(). It should be noted that the resource utilization for a given design does not vary across different members of a device family. For instance, resource utilization for a given design does not vary across different devices in Xilinx Virtex-4 family. This is because the basic architecture comprising LUT, FF, and so forth remains the same in a device family and hence logic synthesis and technology mapping yield similar results during characterization. For example, all Xilinx Virtex-4 device family members will use the same amount of resources for a particular design. It is only the timing performance which can vary from one member to another. Table 13 shows a representative characterization data for sqrt() mapping.

Table 13: Representative characterization data for CORDIC configured for sqrt().

5. On Integration of Proprietary IP Cores

The proposed IP based high level synthesis can easily deal with third party IP cores as well as those computations which can be identified based on graph based pattern matching like matrix operations. However, an additional programmer’s interface is provided for using proprietary IP cores. This would enable adaptive compilation where the adaptation comes from the fact that the compilation of C/C++ description adapts to the availability of proprietary or legacy IP cores. By proprietary IP cores, we refer to those IP cores whose equivalent computation nodes in a CDFG are extremely difficult to identify based on pattern matching or standard keyword based lexical and semantic analysis. For instance, it is extremely difficult to identify a code segment that implements Fast Fourier Transform in an application. To the best of our knowledge there is no work on program understanding and algorithm recognition that is able to deterministically and efficiently identify such code segments. There are third party IP cores for such algorithms and there could as well be proprietary IP cores developed in-house.

If a proprietary IP core is given a name PIPC and if it implements a function which is given the function name FUNCT in the C/C++ description of an application, then a programmer’s interface to the compiler can facilitate insertion of FUNCT to the symbol table. Therefore, the symbol table is composed of a static part and a dynamic part where static part could be updated by the programmer while the dynamic part is updated by the usual lexical and semantic analysis phase. The information in the static part is also used during the lexical and semantic analysis phases. The target backend code generator associates FUNCT in the symbol table with the proprietary IP core PIPC and any other relevant proprietary IP core.

It should be understood that a programmer’s interface is most effective only for large IP cores like FFT modules, encoder-decoder blocks, and so forth, because it eases the task of updating the static part of symbol table and updating the target backend code generator. Also, it would not require restructuring the C/C++ source code of an application using such code blocks because typically these would be implemented as function calls. Doing this for operations like matrix operations would require the C/C++ source code of an application to be restructured as such smaller granularity computations are not always implemented as functions in a C/C++ description of an application.

The availability of programmer’s interface also obviates the need to restructure C/C++ description using directives, pragmas and so forth. This maintains code portability and readability.

6. Conclusion

We have presented in this paper a framework for IP enabled C/C++ based high level synthesis and relevant methods and results to show that IP reuse and high level synthesis can be combined for better area-time results and more designs points without any code restructuring by a designer. We believe that the three-pronged approach to deal with IP cores, that is, lexical and semantic analysis, compiler aware pattern matching, and programmer’s interface, can support all kinds of IP cores. The IP core view is an efficient abstracted view of the IP cores with only details relevant to high level synthesis. The methodology proposed can be used to implement any function, including user defined functions, using IP cores by following the graph based approach of which matrix multiplication was an example. However, lexical and semantic analysis based approach cannot be applied to user defined functions because users may choose to name such functions in any way they wish without any relation to the computation performed by those functions. Hence, we focus on the graph based approach for user defined functions restricting the lexical and semantic analysis based approach to standard in-built functions. While the results in this paper have been quoted for FPGAs, the framework, as well as the techniques, including IP core characterization and view, is applicable to high level synthesis of ASICs also. The ASIC IP cores would require characterization for supported technology nodes in this case. Also, since no source code restructuring or use of directives embedded in the source code is required (which is the case with all existing HLS flows), the proposed flow and methods are sure to increase designer productivity as well as acceptance of HLS design methodology. In addition to improving design performance, the presence of lower level optimized implementations of in-built functions in the IP library relieves a system designer from the worry of algorithms needed to implement such functions. This is particularly useful to those engineers who are more accustomed to software design and less to hardware design.

Conflict of Interests

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interests regarding the publication of this paper.


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