Pipelining is a digital design technique that allows the designer to avoid data dependencies and increase the level of parallelism in an algorithm hardware implementation. The data dependence in the original software implementation is preserved for functional equivalence, but the required circuit is divided into a chain of independent stages. All stages in the chain run in parallel on the same clock cycle. The only difference is the source of data for each stage. Each stage in the computation receives its data values from the result computed by the preceding stage during the previous clock cycle. For example, consider the following function:


The HLS compiler instantiates one multiplier and two adder blocks to implement this function.

The following figure shows this compute structure and the effects of pipelining. It shows two implementations of the example function. The top implementation is the data path required to compute the result y without pipelining. This implementation behaves similarly to the corresponding software function in that all input values must be known at the start of the computation, and only one result y can be computed at a time. The bottom implementation shows the pipelined version of the same circuit.

The boxes in the data path in the above figure represent registers that are implemented by flip-flop blocks in the FPGA fabric. Each box can be counted as a single clock cycle. Therefore, in the pipelined version, the computation of each result y takes three clock cycles. By adding the register, each block is isolated into separate compute sections in time.

This means that the section with the multiplier and the section with the two adders can run in parallel and reduce the overall computational latency of the function. By running both sections of the data path in parallel, the block is essentially computing the values y and y' in parallel, where y' is the result of the next execution of the equation for y above. The initial computation of y, which is also referred to as the pipeline fill time, takes three clock cycles. However, after this initial computation, a new value of y is available at the output on every clock cycle. The computation pipeline contains overlapped data sets for the current and subsequent y computations.

The following figure shows a pipelined architecture in which raw data (dark gray), semi-computed data (white), and final data (light gray) exist simultaneously, and each stage result is captured in its own set of registers. Thus, although the latency for such computation is in multiple cycles, a new result can be produced on every cycle.