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To emulate or prototype?

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Tom Huang
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re: To emulate or prototype?
Tom Huang   10/15/2010 11:25:39 PM
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Brian, I enjoy reading your blog on my favorite subject “Emulation or Prototyping”. I am Thomas Huang and have devoted the last 20+ years in ASIC Emulation and Rapid Prototyping. Your thoughts are well documented here and I would like to add some insight from my experience in these areas. Wireless core designs are pipelined and must run over 20 Mhz to hear voice. Consumer SoC core designs need to run over 25 Mhz to mimic the real time environment. The emulation advantages are (1) mapping automation (2) interconnection routing (via TDM) (3) mapping verification (via co-emulation) (4) RTL verification acceleration (via SCE-MI) (5) full visibility debugging (via TDM probe). The emulation disadvantages are (1) slow (2) expensive and (3) uncertainty of Speed Bridges. When the ratio of core logic and target interface is too high, such as 1 Mhz to 75 Mhz, the Speed Bridge makes the validation results questionable. The FPGA prototype challenges are mostly related to mapping and debugging. In the earlier emulation days, most engineers were paranoid they would detect a problem that was caused by mapping error, physical damage, design error or embedded software bug. It was extremely frustrating for a team to find out the problem is caused by non-design issue. Once co-emulation was used as a standard methodology to verify mapping and physical integrity, the issues shifted to hardware/software co-debugging. You have stated many FPGA debugging issues in previous blog. In the FPGA prototype world, co-emulation is not an option and these users typically rely on ILA or logic analyzers to catch mapping, physical design, and software issues one by one… very slowly. Michael Chang and myself founded InPA Systems and are trying to make FPGA prototyping a much easier process with new technology that will address the issues I mention above…stay tuned! Brian, I would be happy to join your topic of emulation/rapid prototyping in the future.

swatpm
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re: To emulate or prototype?
swatpm   10/15/2010 8:20:36 PM
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I have managed a development of product (wireless terminal) and we also developed the needed mixed signal IC as part of the design. I have used both simulation and emulation methods for that project. I can definitely suggest that the use of FPGA for part of the emulation definitely helped us get quick and good results on the first tape-out. We did identify some issues using the emulation which were difficult to identify with just simulation. It also provided a quick way to enable the software team to go ahead and develop and test the board level software on the emulation board before we have received the final mixed signal IC.

VijayChachra
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re: To emulate or prototype?
VijayChachra   10/8/2010 4:21:07 AM
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Very timely article,Indeed. My own experience about emulators vs prototypes showed that FPGAs show great value addition for 1/100th the cost and 50x gain in test speeds along with immeasurable advantage it gives to SW development and test teams spread across multiple locations. The basic ingredient of success is not the partitioning tools but to have FPGA specific skillset in the team which ports ASIC design on multiple FPGAs.

Built by Taray
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re: To emulate or prototype?
Built by Taray   10/6/2010 6:20:13 PM
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Brian - A very relevant topic in the current state of affairs with ASIC designs - using FPGA based prototypes have become the norm not only for emulation, but also for software development (or prototyping). I know there is some overlap between an emulator and prototype platform, but they are for different purposes. An emulator is used to verify the RTL, while the prototype is used more for software development. Cost(as you rightly pointed out) and the need for custom interfaces is a major factor driving people to do their own FPGA boards. Also, buying an FPGA board really doesn't solve the problem of having to partition/tune the RTL for FPGAs. However, the good news is that some of the recent software tools do take some pain points away in "rolling your own" boards: There is now a tool to architect, specify the communication between FPGAs, and design your FPGA boards from Cadence - the Allegro FPGA System Planner. There are also tools from Synopsys (Certify) and Auspy (ACE) that help with partitioning and automatic insertion of the muxes for the Time Division Multiplexing that you talk about. These software tools, in combination with the debug techniques you talked about in your previous blog should give users the confidence to design their own boards (and save the "extra" budget for a bonus!!!)

BrianBailey
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re: To emulate or prototype?
BrianBailey   10/4/2010 11:19:13 PM
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I hope that some of the bullet points would help - at least to start with - determine which you may have more success with. Then as you say there are the goals and outcomes that a team expects to get from it. Costs are very different. Suppose for example that you want to create 20 or 100 prototypes to give to a set of software developers spread around the world. It may not be possible to do that in an economic fashion with an emulator - and besides, the visibility into the hardware may not be an issue. But if you are trying to debug some core driver routines that have some timing issues, then the emulator may be more suitable for that task. Every development team and situation is different, so any vendor who says that my solution is always the right one is lying. The right way to go takes planning and being aware of all of the trade-offs that you are making.

Max The Magnificent
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re: To emulate or prototype?
Max The Magnificent   10/4/2010 11:00:47 PM
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The folks pushing emulators say that FPGA-based rapid-prototype boards don't provide sufficient visibility into the design and can't offer co-emulation and co-simulation capabilities. The folks pushing FPGA-based rapid prototype boards say that emulators are too slow and expensive and... the battle rages on. Have you had experience with both solutions? If so, how would you advise someone who wasn't sure which way to jump?

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