This is jolly exciting, not the least that I personally hadn’t really heard about External PCI Express before now (there’s always something new to learn)…
Now, before we leap into the fray with gusto and abandon, let’s briefly remind ourselves as to exactly what the folks at Opal Kelly (www.opalkelly.com) have to offer…
Here's the deal. Suppose you are designing something really cool like an amazing robotic vision system that performs lots of cunning functions and performs lots of clever processing – but at some stage you wish to transport a load of data to a PC.
Do you really want to spend months of effort mastering the complexities of some communications protocol, or would you rather use an off-the-shelf module that you can simply drop on top of your main circuit board?
Yes, of course you'd rather use the existing module, because this is a low-risk solution that will get you to the market (and profit) as quickly as possible. That's where the guys and gals at Opal Kelly come into the picture – they make a wide variety of FPGA-based modules suitable for just about anything you might want to do. The FPGA allows you to customize the module to interface to your main board however you wish (you might also decide to use this FPGA to perform additional processing on your data before passing it to the PC).
Until now, Opal Kelly’s FPGA modules have all been USB-based. However, they’ve just announced a new product family of compact FPGA integration modules using external PCI Express. The first module in the family, the XEM6110, is based on the Xilinx Spartan-6 and delivers five times faster transfer rates compared to USB with much lower latency. Responding to requests from design engineers, researchers and teachers, the new XEM6110 leverages Opal Kelly’s industry-leading FrontPanel software and API. The result is a dramatically faster time-to-market for high-speed, low-latency applications.
The reason this is of interest to me is that I always think of PCI Express (PCIe) as being used inside
a computer. However, it seems that part of the PCIe spec that’s not often used – known as External PCIe – allows you to take PCIe “out of the (PC) box”
to transfer lots of data very quickly and efficiently. Of course, you need something to connect to … like Opal Kelly’s XEM6110 module.
The Opal Kelly XEM6110 is a compact (75mm x 50mm) FPGA module, featuring a Xilinx Spartan-6, 1 Gb (64M x 16 bit) DDR2 SDRAM, high-efficiency switching power supplies, two high-density 0.8-mm expansion connectors, and a low-jitter 100-MHz oscillator. The external PCI Express interface enables fast configuration downloads without requiring a PC reboot and PC-FPGA communication. Sharing a common footprint with the XEM3010 and XEM3050, most designs can be migrated to the new XEM6110 without a PCB change.“We asked Opal Kelly for a faster interface for their FPGA modules - we make extensive use of multiple XEM3010's in our designs but find USB 2.0 bandwidth is holding us back. Opal Kelly delivered the PCI Express XEM6110 - virtually a drop-in to our existing designs, with significantly improved data transfer rates,”
said Mike Phaneuf, President of Fibics Incorporated. “Opal Kelly’s FPGA modules are the heart of many of our designs for solving real-world commercial problems. Not only will the PCI Express interface dramatically increase transfer rates, but the use of Opal Kelly’s FrontPanel API continues to reduce the time and effort required to interface to our systems. We are excited about leveraging this new module to improve our time-to-market for the delivery of key next-generation products."Pricing and availability
The XEM6110 Starter Kit will be available on December 1 from the Opal Kelly online store for $995 for quantity one. The kit includes: XEM6110, PCI1001 (host interface board), BRK6110 (breakout board), power supply, and a 3-meter cable.