LabView FPGA becomes tool for system configuration

-May 16, 2013

More often than not, programmers within National Instruments Corp tend to be the first people to tout the capabilities of LabView FPGA for configuring board-level or system-level products for vertical markets. But recently, OEMs themselves are stepping up to sing the praises of LabView as an alternative to HDL optimization of FPGA logic.

Admittedly, developers working in heads-down fashion on LabView FPGA is not new. Two years ago, we referenced a solar-panel manufacturer, Siliken Renewable Energy, using LabView FPGA to track particle formation inside a purification reactor. More recently, Larry Desjardin of Modular Methods LLC discussed the use of LabView-based configuration in test tools by Agilent Technologies, Teradyne, ZTEK, and Guzik Test and Measurement. NI's R&D team has been spreading the word about a LabView FPGA Compile Cloud that will use cloud services to compile code for new applications.

Still, when a LabView partner proactively points out the benefits of using the FPGA module in new product development, it's clear the message is being heard.  Terry Stratoudakis, founder of Wall Street FPGA and principal at ALE Systems Integration, was in Denver in mid-April to teach a class on using LabView for product configuration. Stratoudakis used LabView FPGA in defining products for Wall Street FPGA, which uses Xilinx logic to process algorithms used in high-frequency trading.

"It's not as though LabView will always replace HDLs in defining all FPGA products," Stratoudakis said. "But those of us who have worked with LabView for several years have learned how flexible the tool is, particularly the extensions developed specifically for the FPGA environment."

Stratoudakis is looking at vertical products that can be defined with ease in vertical realms such as communications and military electronics.  When a system product can be defined in a constrained environment like a NI RIO card, LabView can be sufficient in and of itself.  However, Stratoudakis empashized that when each FPGA device should be optimized within a design, it probably makes sense to learn VHDL or another high-level hardware description language.

LabView customers have brought up some VHDL features not yet supported within LabView, such as support for arrays or constants.  For now, however, few of the NI developers of LabView or its external users promote LabView as a replacement for VHDL.  Rather, it is seen as a high-level tool that eases the rapid configuration of FPGAs within a larger system.

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