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Emulator, accelerator, prototype – what’s the difference?

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Steve Pollock
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re: Emulator, accelerator, prototype – what’s the difference?
Steve Pollock   11/9/2010 2:07:19 PM
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Ralph Zak did a good job of discussing the differences between Emulation and FPGA prototyping. I would like to elaborate a bit from my vantage point of working for S2C, a leading rapid SoC prototyping supplier in China and Taiwan and now in the US. We have focused on the rapid prototyping market. FPGA boards are common to prototyping and emulation. With rapid prototyping, our focus is on getting a fully operational hardware platform including the memory and I/O interfaces. Getting FPGAs to run at system, or close to system speeds, is often not trivial. To that end, we have pre-engineered Prototype Ready(tm) IP solutions to speed the development of the SoC prototype. FPGA prototypes benefit both software and hardware development. As Ralph pointed out, far more SoC prototyping boards are sold to support software development than hardware development. I concur with his usage figures. Currently we are seeing over 70% of our boards used for software development. Once the SoC prototype is verified, simultaneous hardware and software development can begin. There is a huge payback from early software development on the target hardware platform. Not only are the software debug cycles orders of magnitude faster than computer simulation but seeing the results on the actual platform is a much more effective debug environment. In addition, because the significantly higher performance of the prototype platform, the software engineer can run orders of magnitude more tests. Our customers are saving months on their development schedules by starting with SoC prototypes.

zakralph
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re: Emulator, accelerator, prototype – what’s the difference?
zakralph   11/5/2010 10:06:31 PM
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Here are some additional thoughts on how to distinguish prototyping from emulation. The role of prototyping is to provide a pre-silicon platform for early system integration of the SoC design with firmware and applications software, not RTL debug. Runtime speed is critical due to the need to offer a similar environment to the normal host based SW development environment. Cost is also critical as often 5, 10 or more systems are needed to support the large number of SW developers. Note that the RTL must be 99.99% clean when you begin running the prototype due to the limitations of debug visibility inherent in the tools. Emulation systems can use FPGAs or emulation ASICs. Emulators perform both simulation acceleration and early system integration capability. By providing internal visibility to all or tens of thousands of the internal registers and nodes per device, like simulators, emulation systems are used for RTL debug. By reducing simulation run times by factors of 100s or 1000s, they shorten the time to tape-out by weeks or months. Emulation software functionality is the key to map designs quickly, provide for debug, and to manage host-emulator data flow and interactions. An emulation system is also capable of system integration and debug of software, like prototypes. However, due to the higher cost of custom chip based emulation systems these typicaly need to be complemented with FPGA-based systems to provide access to large teams of software developers. For emulation systems, another consideration is that the current largest FPGAs are so much bigger than the custom emulation chips, they can easily support the emulation specific IP and interconnect functions like debug capture and management in them, and still have two to four times the capacity per device of custom chips. So such systems, while equivalent in functionality, tend to be smaller, less complicated and costly, and run much faster.

Max The Magnificent
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re: Emulator, accelerator, prototype – what’s the difference?
Max The Magnificent   11/1/2010 9:00:44 PM
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It's a funny old world isn't it -- a little earlier today I posted a How-To design article that talks about a new concept in FPGA-based prototype platforms for SoC designs in which a standard FPGA prototype board can be enhanced to offer high-visibility and also offer co-simulation and co-emulation capabilities (http://bit.ly/ccWL6T) ... and then Brian goes and posts this blog ... it's almost as though we hand planned it (but we didn't)

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