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NI revamps FlexRIO using fast Mezzanine digitizer modules with carriers and co-processor cards based on Kintex UltraScale FPGAs

Xilinx Employee
Xilinx Employee
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National Instruments’ (NI’s) PXI FlexRIO modular instrumentation product line has been going strong for more than a decade and the company has just revamped its high-speed PXI analog digitizers and PXI digital signal processors by upgrading to high-performance Xilinx Kintex UltraScale FPGAs. According to NI’s press release, “With Kintex UltraScale FPGAs, the new FlexRIO architecture offers more programmable resources than previous Kintex-7-based FlexRIO modules. In addition, the new mezzanine architecture fits both the I/O module and the FPGA back end within a single, integrated 3U PXI module. For high-speed communication with other modules in the chassis, these new FlexRIO modules feature PCIe Gen 3 x8 connectivity for up to 7 GB/s of streaming bandwidth.” (Note that all Kintex UltraScale FPGAs incorporate hardened PCIe Gen1/2/3 cores.)


The change was prompted by a tectonic shift in analog converter interface technology—away from parallel LVDS converter interfaces and towards newer, high-speed serial protocols like JESD204B. As a result, NI’s engineers re-architected their PXI module architecture by splitting it into interface-compatible Mezzanine I/O modules and a trio of back-end FPGA carrier/PCIe-interface cards—NI calls them “FPGA back ends”—based on three pin-compatible Kintex UltraScale FPGAs: the KU035, KU040, and KU060 Kintex UltraScale devices. These devices allow NI to offer three different FPGA resource levels with the same pcb design.



NI FlexRIO Digitizers based on Kintex UltraScale FPGAs.jpg




Modular NI PXI FlexRIO Module based on Xilinx Kintex UltraScale FPGAs




The new products in the revamped FlexRIO product line include:


Digitizer Modules – New PXI FlexRIO Digitizers higher-speed sample rates and wide bandwidth without compromising dynamic range. The 16-bit, 400MHz PXIe-5763 and PXIe-5764 operate at 500 Msamples/sec and 1 Gsamples/sec respectively. (Note: NI previewed these modules earlier this year at NI Week. See “NI’s new FlexRIO module based on Kintex UltraScale FPGAs serves as platform for new modular instruments.”)



NI FlexRIO Digitizers based on Kintex UltraScale FPGAs.jpg 



  • Coprocessor Modules – Kintex UltraScale PXI FlexRIO Coprocessor Modules add real-time signal processing capabilities to a system. A chassis full of these modules delivers high-density computational resources—the most computational density ever offered by NI.


  • Module Development Kit – You can use NI’s LabVIEW to program these PXI modules and you can using use the Xilinx Vivado Project Export feature included with LabVIEW FPGA 2017 to develop, simulate, and compile custom I/O modules for more performance or to meet unique application requirements. (More details available from NI here.)


Here’s a diagram showing you the flow for LabVIEW 2017’s Xilinx Vivado Project Export capability:




 NI Vivado Project Export for LabVIEW 2017.jpg




NI’s use of three Kintex UltraScale FPGA family members to develop these new FlexRIO products illustrate several important benefits associated with FPGA-based design.


First, NI has significantly future-proofed its modular PXIe FlexRIO design by incorporating the flexible, programmable I/O capabilities of Xilinx FPGAs. JESD204B is an increasingly common analog interface standard, easily handled by the Kintex UltraScale FPGAs. In addition, those FPGA I/O pins driving the FlexRIO Mezzanine interface connector are bulletproof, fully programmable, 16.3Gbps GTH/GTY ports that can accommodate a very wide range of high-speed interfaces—nearly anything that NI’s engineering teams might dream up in years to come.


Second, NI is able to offer three different resource levels based on three pin-compatible Kintex UltraScale FPGAs using the same pcb design. This pin compatibility is not accidental. It’s deliberate. Xilinx engineers labored to achieve this compatibility just so that system companies like NI could benefit. NI recognized and took advantage of this pre-planned compatibility. (You'll find that same attention to detail in every one of Xilinx's All Programmable device families.)


Third, NI is able to leverage the same Kintex UltraScale FPGA architecture for its high-speed Digitizer Modules and for its Coprocessor Modules, rather than using two entirely dissimilar chips—one for I/O control in the digitizers and one for the programmable computing engine Coprocessor Modules. The same programmable Kintex UltraScale FPGA architecture suits both applications well. The benefit here is the ability to develop common drivers and other common elements for both types of FlexRIO module.



For more information about these new NI FlexRIO products, please contact NI directly.



Note: Xcell Daily has covered the high-speed JESD204B interface repeatedly in the past. See:











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