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Emulation or prototyping for silicon success?

Posted: 15 Apr 2001 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:rtl simulator? asp? ip? quickturn?

With the high-stakes financial and time-to-market risks involved in designing ICs, design verification has become critical. The question lingers would be: "Which verification methods are necessary for first-pass silicon success?"

There are several factors to consider. First you need to look at the type, size, complexity and geometry of your IC. However, the most crucial consideration in determining your verification method is the current stage and quality of your design.

The verification process always begins with block-level simulation. At this stage your design blocks are raw and have an abundance of bugs. Once you've simulated to reduce the bug count, you then integrate the blocks to build the end product.

Simulation acceleration

The verification process now becomes a system-verification problem. If you take into consideration the various bus interfaces, real-time data, embedded software and the external user interfaces, you will need more verification cycles. To accomplish that, you can turn to simulation acceleration.

As your design exhibits far fewer bugs, emulation is your next logical step. That is especially true if your design has extensive software content. Once you have dramatically reduced the bug count and are nearing stable hardware, you should employ prototyping.

Though most engineers are familiar with simulation and simulation acceleration, few are familiar with emulation and the newer prototyping technologies. While emulation and rapid prototyping may appear to be the same thing, they have quite different capabilities and applications.

Emulation creates a hardware model of an IC design that can be plugged into a system under development. Emulation provides a rich debugging environment for tracking problems at all levels in the design.

Rapid prototyping also creates a hardware model of an IC design, but primarily of a SoC design, for verifying interblock operability and providing a vehicle for software development.

Emulation emphasizes fast design compilation to provide multiple turns in a day, and full visibility in debugging any part of the design. Rapid prototyping emphasizes higher operating speeds for faster software execution, and lower costs to support multiple copies throughout your organization. Rapid prototyping will sacrifice ease of compilation and debugging visibility inside the blocks. Emulation will sacrifice operating speed and cost in favor of rich debugging features to achieve the shortest time-to-tapeout.

If you are producing a new, large and complex design, emulation will thoroughly test your chip in the context of the system. With the right emulator, you can place your entire design into hardware and run it at orders of magnitude faster than simulation.

For example, users can verify a 2-million-gate wireless design (running 10 billion bits through a RTL simulator) in just two days using emulation. That would take four months using traditional simulation.

As you map your IC design in the emulator, you can also connect it to your target system. Both usage models allow you to identify and repair problems that would never have been found with simulation.

A trend toward developing modular, block-based and platform-based designs using commercial or internally developed intellectual property is emerging. The most cost-effective method for verifying such designs is rapid prototyping, which ensures that your intellectual property will work together and allow you to perform "what if" analyses using different IP. Additionally, prototyping supports concurrent verification at a lower cost per engineer, which means that your software engineers can use a separate prototyping system to verify their piece of the code.

Emulation and prototyping systems can either be purchased directly from an EDA vendor or utilized by working with an application service provider. The ASP model allows companies to manage capital-equipment expenditures. For example, you could access emulation or rapid prototyping cycles and services through an ASP when you encounter peak verification requirements, rather than carry the investment throughout your project.

? Scott Ciener

Director of Business Development

Quickturn Inc.





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