Population Count (a.k.a. Hamming Weight)

Returns the number of bits set in the input word. The popcount is always log2(N)+1 bits wide given an N-bit input word. (e.g.: a 32-bit word has a 6-bit popcount, so you can represent the integer "32")

The algorithm is straightforward: split the input word into bit pairs and count the number of bits set in each pair using a lookup table, then extend each count to log2(N)+1 bits, and sum all the counts one after the other, which expresses a chain of (N/2)-1 small adders (e.g.: 15 6-bit adders for a 32-bit input word) rather than the obvious tree of adders, which would require more difficult, recursive code. However, the CAD tool can reduce the logic (most of the added bits are constant zeros) and generate a tree of LUTs and adders with a carry-chain log2(N)+1 bits long, which is the length of the expected final adder were this a tree of adders.

There are many applications of population count. Think of it as mapping bitmasks to the integers, allowing us to use arithmetic operations to determine properties.

Leaning on Logic Optimization to Reduce User Errors

When I originally wrote this, the POPCOUNT_WIDTH was a module parameter rather than being calculated internally, as the enclosing module needs to know the width of the output, so it should calculate log2(N)+1 and pass it to this module. If the value is smaller than that, then the missing bits will not be computed. If the value is larger, the extra bits will be always zero.

However, it turns out that it's error-prone to expect the user to remember that the output width should be log2(N)+1 and not log2(N). It is easier to leave the output width at WORD_WIDTH as this simplifies code and the post-elaboration diagram, and the logic optimization of the successive additions automatically infers the log2(N)+1 output width and eliminates the redundant logic. I left the code as-is, and hardwired the POPCOUNT_WIDTH parameter instead.

Portability and Readability

This implementation depends heavily on Verilog's vector part select operation, which might cause difficulties when porting to other HDLs, and also means you should read it carefully as some lines are long and have a lot of bits being moved around between vectors, but this design choice also makes the code easily parameterizable.

`default_nettype none

module Population_Count
    parameter WORD_WIDTH        = 0,

    // Don't set at instantiation (see above)
    parameter POPCOUNT_WIDTH    = WORD_WIDTH
    input   wire    [WORD_WIDTH-1:0]        word_in,
    output  reg     [POPCOUNT_WIDTH-1:0]    count_out

    initial begin
        count_out = {POPCOUNT_WIDTH{1'b0}};

This part of the code never changes regardless of input word width, so to keep the code concise, I'll break the rule of always naming constants and instead use the literals: a 4-entry table of 2-bit values, converting the integer described by a pair of bits into an integer describing the number of bits set in that pair of bits (the "paircount"). Since both have 2 bits, we can conveniently just replace the input bit pairs by their paircounts. We put a ramstyle attribute to tell the CAD tool this should NOT be synthesized as a memory, but just as LUT logic. It works without it, but I have seen my CAD tool randomly decide to use Block RAM instead.

    (* ramstyle = "logic" *)        // Quartus
    (* ram_style = "distributed" *) // Vivado

    reg [1:0] popcount2bits [0:3];

    initial begin
        popcount2bits[0] = 2'd0;
        popcount2bits[1] = 2'd1;
        popcount2bits[2] = 2'd1;
        popcount2bits[3] = 2'd2;

Then let's calculate how many pairs of bits we have to process, and the zero-padding we will use to extend them to POPCOUNT_WIDTH, so all the adders work on the same number of bits. Using the maximum number of bits is a lot easier than figuring out the necessary adder bit width at each step, and since the padding is constant zero, it wil be optimized away during synthesis. If no padding is required, we return the otherwise impossible maximal PAD_WIDTH for later special case handling.

    localparam PAIR_COUNT       = WORD_WIDTH / 2;
    localparam PAIR_WORD_WIDTH  = PAIR_COUNT * 2;
    localparam PAD              = {PAD_WIDTH{1'b0}};

Then define our working space: a vector of paircounts holding all bit pairs (might be less than WORD_WIDTH if its value is odd), and a vector of popcount words, one popcount for each paircount. We will accumulate popcounts and paircounts into each successive popcount word, and the last popcount will hold our final result.

Veril*tor can't quite see what we're doing here, so we tell it to ignore the apparent combinational loop. (The "*" is so that program doesn't see this comment as an erroneous directive.)

    reg [PAIR_WORD_WIDTH-1:0]               paircount   = {PAIR_WORD_WIDTH{1'b0}};
    // verilator lint_off UNOPTFLAT
    reg [(POPCOUNT_WIDTH*PAIR_COUNT)-1:0]   popcount    = {POPCOUNT_WIDTH*PAIR_COUNT{1'b0}};
    // verilator lint_on  UNOPTFLAT

Finally, if WORD_WIDTH is odd, we will have to account for the last bit not in a pair. So let's compute that flag now.

    localparam WORD_WIDTH_IS_ODD = (WORD_WIDTH % 2) == 1;

Translate the initial bit pair into a paircount and then pad it into a popcount value. Doing this also peels out the first iteration of the following loop so we can refer to the previous loop index without having a negative number (which is not allowed).

    integer i;

    always @(*) begin
        paircount[0 +: 2]               = popcount2bits[word_in[0 +: 2]];
        // This is decided at elaboration, but the linter doesn't know that.
        if (PAD_WIDTH == POPCOUNT_WIDTH) begin
            popcount[0 +: POPCOUNT_WIDTH]   = paircount[0 +: 2];
        else begin
            // verilator lint_off WIDTH
            popcount[0 +: POPCOUNT_WIDTH]   = {PAD,paircount[0 +: 2]};
            // verilator lint_on  WIDTH

Now repeat for all remaining bit pairs, but also accumulate the popcount from the previous iteration. Note the start index due to the peeled-out first iteration.

        for(i=1; i < PAIR_COUNT; i=i+1) begin : per_paircount
            paircount[2*i +: 2]                          = popcount2bits[word_in[2*i +: 2]];
            // This is decided at elaboration, but the linter doesn't know that.
            if (PAD_WIDTH == POPCOUNT_WIDTH) begin
                popcount[POPCOUNT_WIDTH*i +: POPCOUNT_WIDTH] = paircount[2*i +: 2] + popcount[POPCOUNT_WIDTH*(i-1) +: POPCOUNT_WIDTH];
            else begin
                // verilator lint_off WIDTH
                popcount[POPCOUNT_WIDTH*i +: POPCOUNT_WIDTH] = {PAD,paircount[2*i +: 2]} + popcount[POPCOUNT_WIDTH*(i-1) +: POPCOUNT_WIDTH];
                // verilator lint_on  WIDTH

If the input word width was odd, pad up the last bit not in a pair to the popcount width and add it to the last popcount.

        if (WORD_WIDTH_IS_ODD == 1'b1) begin

Then the last popcount is the total for the whole input word.

        count_out = popcount[POPCOUNT_WIDTH*(PAIR_COUNT-1) +: POPCOUNT_WIDTH];


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