Frequently Asked Questions


What is unique about your product?

Our product is scalable from 1-4 FPGAs on a single card.  You can also include 1-4 receivers, if your application uses wireless signals.  The FPGAs are high-end Virtex®-7 parts (XC7VX485T) manufactured by Xilinx, Inc.  Thus, our card offers the maximum processing power available in the minimum size of any card available on the market today.  The intermediate frequency (IF) interface for our receivers allows multi-channel and multi-band operation on a single card.  In addition, the sample rate is programmable to match your particular application.


Who are your customers?

Our customers are large, midsize, and small companies that provide subsystems or complete systems to their end customers.  Some have experienced implementation teams.  Others are new to FPGA processing, but have simulated or implemented their application on a conventional platform, and would now like to speed it up.


What are some typical applications?

Applications include signal processing, image processing, radar, SIGINT, surveillance, direction finding, cryptography, demodulation, forward error correction coding, packet processing, network monitoring, and many others.  Basically anything that requires a lot of processing power.


I'm new to FPGA processing.  Is help available?

Yes.  Besides complete product documentation and working code examples, we offer a full spectrum of technical support options.  These range from email & telephone support, to assistance in developing your initial application, to full-blown development efforts.  Email and telephone support are provided free for the life of your product, while additional support is provided at an hourly rate.  Contact sales for a quote.


Are development libraries available?

Yes.  Each PVP card comes with a royalty-free software development kit that contains all board support routines needed.  In addition, numerous FPGA library modules are available to developers at no additional cost.  Examples include CIC, DUC, DDC, and FIR filters; DFT, FFT, CORDIC, and DDS modules; dividers, multipliers, square-root, and floating-point modules; FIFO, RAM, and ROM memories; standard bus interfaces; and video & image processing modules.  The FPGA community is large and many additional modules are available.


What languages do you support?

FPGA code can be written in Verilog or VHDL.  Code to run on the system hosting the PVP card can be written in 'C' or in C++, or in any language that can be interfaced to 'C' subroutines.


What operating systems do you support?

Linux, either Red Hat or CentOS, version 6 or later.


What host hardware do you support?

Any.  PVP cards utilize an industry-standard PCI Express® (PCIe®) interface.  This means the card plugs into a standard connector available on every host system, personal computer, or server manufactured anywhere in the world today.  Hardware manufacturers qualified to date include HP, Dell, SGI, IBM, and others.  For customers that require the smallest platform possible, we have also qualified the PVP cards in a mini-ITX chassis using a motherboard that measures 6.7 x 6.7 inches (17 x 17 cm).


What is the initial setup time?

Generally about 5-10 minutes.  Once you open the box, simply plug the card into your host system and power it on.  The card boots in seconds, automatically running the example application installed at the factory.  To interact with the card, obtain a .zip file containing the latest software development kit from our website.  Unzip the SDK on your host and follow the directions in the user manual to interact with your card.


How easy is it to write code for the PVP?

Customers often report developing and executing their own code on the first day they have the card.  Three features make this possible.  First, the card comes with full source code for a comprehensive example application, which is already installed on the card.  Second, the application programming interfaces (API) are simple, straightforward, and easy to understand.  Third, code and full documentation are available on our website and technical support is available free via email and telephone.


What are the application programming interfaces like?

Simple and intuitive.  The firmware API consists of defined interface signals:  eight for sample data, nine for DMA, four for application registers, and five for system purposes.  The software API consists of ten C/C++ subroutines that you call.  That's it!


Can I get source code for an example application?

Yes.  All products come with a royalty-free software development kit.  The SDK includes a simple yet complete, working application.  The application allows you to query and update all registers, transfer DMA data from host to card, and receive real-time sample data via DMA.  Source code for the host side of this application is provided in 'C'.  Source code for the FPGA side of this application is provided in VHDL.


What if I need to make changes in the field?

PVP cards can be updated with new application code in minutes.  Update can be accomplished via local or remote access to the computer system hosting the card.


I accidentally loaded a bad version of code which crashes my card.  Help!

PVP cards contain a "safe" mode that cannot be overwritten by the user.  The "safe" mode can be accessed locally or remotely, and allows you to re-load the card with a good version of code.


How much processing power is there?

A lot.  One card contains up to four Virtex®-7 FPGAs.  Each FPGA is a high-end XC7VX485T, which contains 2800 DSP48 arithmetic processing units, 2060 individually addressable dual-port block RAMs of 18 kbits each, 607200 flip-flops, and 303600 six-input look-up tables.  Together these resources provide a single card with more than 6 TeraMAC/sec and 65 TeraOPS/sec of processing power, and more than 270 Terabits/sec memory read/write bandwidth.


Can I install more than one PVP card in my system?

Yes.  Typically a 1U system can contain up to two PVP cards, a 2U system up to four cards, etc.  Using commercially available PCI Express®expansion chassis, you can install up to 16 cards in a 4U rack space.  The number of cards your system can handle depends on the number of x16 PCI Express® slots available, and its power supply capability.


How much power does a PVP card consume?

It depends on your card configuration and how much processing you do.  A card with one FPGA will use up to 50 watts, depending on how much processing you do.  Each additional FPGA will use up to 25 additional watts.


Is an auxiliary power connection required?

It depends on the number of FPGAs installed.  If your card contains 3 or 4 FPGAs, an auxiliary power connector is used.  This connector is defined by the PCI Express®standard, and mates with  the standard power cabling on any computer system.


What about cooling?

No "sweat" -- PVP cards are rigorously engineered to keep card temperatures within operating limits using only the airflow routinely provided by computer system vendors.  Special cooling measures are not required.  Feel free to consult our pre-sales engineering staff if you have specific questions or concerns.


But what happens if a chassis fan fails in the field?

All PVP cards continuously monitor internal temperatures.  Data is provided to the user's software, where it can be logged and actioned.  Cards can also be configured to shut down automatically if an over-temperature condition occurs.


My application is weight limited.  What does a PVP card weigh?

It ranges from 8 to 11 ounces (225-305 grams) depending on the number of FPGAs installed.  See the website for exact details; click on "read more" under the main page heading entitled "Small."


How much space does a PVP card occupy?

Measuring approximately 6.6 x 4.4 x 0.8 inches, the card has a volume of 23.2 cubic inches.  In metric terms this is 16.8 x 11.1 x 1.87 cm, with a volume of 348.7 cubic centimeters.  Exact card dimensions are specified in the PCI Express®standard, within which the PVP card is classified as a standard height, half-length, single-wide card.


How much does a PVP card cost?

Pricing depends on the number of FPGAs and the number of receivers you choose, as well as on market conditions,  Contact sales for a quote and we will respond within one business day.


Do I have to pay any annual or recurring fees?

No.  All software and firmware is provided free with the purchase of any PVP product.  This includes all board support routines, Linux drivers, application programming interfaces, shell scripts, and whatever.  Unlimited technical support is also provided free of charge for the life of your card.


What is the lead time?

Lead times vary, depending on quantity, what we have in stock and in the pipeline, and the particular card configuration you want.  Contact sales for a quote and we will respond within one business day.


Where are PVP products manufactured?

Our products are designed and manufactured in the U.S.A.


Note:  Virtex is a registered trademark of Xilinx, Inc.  PCI Express and PCIe are registered trademarks of PCI-SIG.


Network Security

  To increase network security, networks are often divided into different security domains.  Cross-domain equipment enforces domain separation, while still allowing appropriate traffic to cross domain boundaries.


   Although simple in concept, domain separation can be challenging to implement.  Achieving the best security requires deep packet inspection, along with complex rules for flagging and filtering, which may also evolve in real time.  In contrast, shallow inspection allows greater throughput, and simpler, more static rules require less processing.  Tradeoffs like these can quickly become compromises when dealing with the high-speed links common in today's networks, such as 10GigE.


   The solution?  A programmable computing accelerator (PCA) card from Star Communications.  Our PCI Express® cards provide more raw processing power per dollar, per watt, per pound, and per cubic inch than any other product available today.  Up to four FPGA processing elements can be easily accessed from your host computer, using DMA via the PCI Express® bus. 


  With processing power like this, you can perform high-speed packet inspection, simple or complex filtering algorithms, and encryption and decryption in real time, even on 10GigE links.  So get a PCA card from Star Communications, and start eliminating bottlenecks and compromises today!

Software Development Kit

Each PVP card comes standard with a royalty-free software development kit, or SDK.  The software development kit contains all basic board support routines for the PVP card.  This provides an advanced starting point for customers to develop their own VHDL or Verilog firmware that runs on the PVP card.  A simple-to-use application programming interface (API) allows access to all PVP capabilities without writing hardware-specific code.  This frees PVP customers to concentrate on developing customer-specific firmware, such as signal processing algorithms.

SDK also contains a hardware device driver, used to access the PVP card from a customer's host computer system.  Shell scripts are provided to install the PVP device driver automatically.  Accessing the device driver from a customer's program is easy, using
an intuitive set of application programming interface routines, written in C.  Using the C-API, customer software running on the host computer system can monitor the PVP card, exert control, and transfer high-speed data to and from the card via its PCI Express bus.

OEMs and end users alike can come up to speed quickly, using the comprehensive design example provided in the SDK.

Technical Support

Owners of a PVP card and SDK are entitled to technical support for the life of the product.  Once added to our support list, PVP users can log in to the "Support" tab on this web site, as well as correspond directly with our technical staff via e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Mounting Hardware

PVP cards come standard with a front panel installed.  This is referred to in the PCI Express standard as an "I/O Bracket", and serves to affix the PVP card when installed in the customer's host computer system.  In most computer chassis designs, PCI Express slots are oriented with cards facing the rear when installed.  The front panel for the PVP card can thus be accessed from the rear of most chassis, providing access to the receiver connectors.  A Virtex-6 PVP card occupies a standard height, full-length PCIe slot, whle a Virtex-7 PVP card occupies a standard height, half-length PCIe slot.

Cable Accessories

PVP cards use small, snap-on RF connectors to interface customer signals to the on-board receivers.  The connector used is a standard micro-miniature coaxial (MMCX) connector, such as the 908-24100 manufactured by Amphenol.  MMCX connectors are available through DigiKey ( and other distributors.  Each PVP card comes standard with adaptor cables that adapt from MMCX-to-SMA.  Additional cables can be ordered from Star Communications, as well as from many cable vendors.