The dynamic partial reconfiguration technology enables an embedded system to adapt its hardware functionalities at run-time to changing environment conditions. However, reconfigurable hardware functions are still managed as conventional hardware devices, and the enhancement of system performance using the partial reconfiguration technology is thus still limited. To further raise the utilization of reconfigurable hardware designs, we propose a virtual hardware mechanism, including the logic virtualization and the hardware device virtualization, for dynamically partially reconfigurable systems. Using the logic virtualization technique, a hardware function that has been configured in the field-programmable gate array (FPGA) can be virtualized to support more than one software application at run-time. Using the hardware device virtualization, a software application can access two or more different hardware functions through the same device node. In a network security reconfigurable system for multimedia applications, our experimental results also demonstrate that the utilization of reconfigurable hardware functions can be further raised using the virtual hardware mechanism. Furthermore, the virtual hardware mechanism can also reduce up to 26% of the time required by using the conventional hardware reuse.
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