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Adam Taylor’s MicroZed Chronicles Part 156: Pynq Hardware Overlays

Xilinx Employee
Xilinx Employee
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By Adam Taylor



Having done the easy part and got the Pynq all set up and running a simple “hello world” program, I wanted to look next at the overlays which sit within the PL, how they work, and how we can use the base overlay provided.


What is an overlay? The overlay is a design that’s loaded into the Zynq SoC’s programmable logic (PL). The overlay can be designed to accelerate a function in the programmable logic or provide an interfacing capability using the PL. In short, overlays give Pynq its, unique capabilities.


What is important to understand about the overlay is that there is not a Python-to-PL high-level synthesis process involved. Instead, we develop the overlay using one of the standard Xilinx design methodologies (SDSoC, Vivado, or Vivado HLS). Once we’ve created the bit file for the overlay, we then integrate it within the Pynq architecture and establish the required parameters to communicate with it using Python.


Like all things with the Zynq SoC that we have looked at to date, this is very simple. We can easily integrate with the Python environment using the bit file and other files provided with the Vivado build. We do this with the Python MMIO class, which allows us to interact with designs in the PL through memory-mapped reads and writes.  The memory map of the current overlay in the PL is all we need. Of course, we can change the contents of the PL on the fly as our application requires to accelerate functions in the PL.


We will be looking more at how we can create our own overlay over the next few weeks. However, if you want to know more in the short term, I suggest you read the Pynq manual here. If you are thinking of developing your own overlay, be sure that you base it on the base overlay Vivado design to ensure that the configuration of the Zynq SoC’s Processor System (PS) and the PS/PL interface s are correct.


The supplied base overlay provides support for several interfaces including the HDMI port and a wide range of PMODs.


The real power of the Pynq system comes from the open source community developing and sharing overlays. I want to look at a couple of these in the remainder of this blog. These overlays are available via GitHub and provide a Sobel Filter for the HDMI input and output and a FIR filter. You’ll find them here:





The first thing we need to do is the install the packages. For this example, I am going to install the Sobel filter. To do this we need to use a terminal program to download and install the overlay and its associated files.



We can do this using PuTTY and log in easily with the user name and password of Xilinx. The command to install the overlay is then:



sudo -H pip install --upgrade 'git+https://github.com/beja65536/pz1_sobelfilter'





Installing the Sobel Filter



Once this has been downloaded, the next step is to download the zip file containing the Juypter notebook from GitHub and upload it under the examples directory. This is simple to do. Just select the upload and navigate to the location of the notebook you wish to upload.





This notebook also performs the installation of the overlay if you have not done this via the terminal. You do however only need to do this once.



Once this is uploaded, we can connect the Pynq to an HDMI source and an HDMI monitor and run the example. For this example, I am going to connect the Pynq between the Embedded Vision Kit and the display and then run the notebook.






When I did this, the notebook produced the image below showing the result of the Sobel Filter. Overall, this was very easy to get up and running using a different overlay that is not the base overlay.






Code is available on Github as always.


If you want E book or hardback versions of previous MicroZed chronicle blogs, you can get them below.




  • First Year E Book here
  • First Year Hardback here.



MicroZed Chronicles hardcopy.jpg 




  • Second Year E Book here
  • Second Year Hardback here




MicroZed Chronicles Second Year.jpg 




All of Adam Taylor’s MicroZed Chronicles are cataloged here.