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Unifying software, hardware design environment

Posted: 16 Sep 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:software? hardware? hdl? esd? arb?

With an expanded breadth of new designs calling on design reuse with either legacy designs or IP cores, it greatly benefits the user if he or she can easily incorporate those portions of pre-existing modules into the new design target. The easiest, most efficient way to do this is by incorporating a hardware board into the software environment. The less invasive the introduction of hardware, the better it is, so that the designer can proceed with implementing his design with nominal interruption.

With design reuse becoming more prevalent in today's new designs, this can prove problematic if the designer has to simulate the design in its entirety in software, because the time that was saved on using pre-existing modules is now lost on the long simulation runs from the complex modules. Additionally, many complex IP cores as well as designs containing soft processor cores contain several thousand gates and prove cumbersome if simulated solely in software.

One way to address this problem is to use a software/hardware environment that works as a single, unified design environment. Designers do not have to burden themselves with working in two separate environments, nor do they need to manufacture their own proprietary prototyping board. By offering customers an off-the-shelf prototyping and test environment, working with PCB layout and schematics can be eliminated entirely and the designer can concentrate on his or her work exclusively in an HDL environment.

If a customer were to develop and make his own prototyping board, in essence, he would now have two design projects: manufacturing the prototyping board and then using that board to aid in developing the actual design that the user was commissioned to do. In this age of accelerated market and a constant urgency placed on completed design cycles, adding an entire, separate step to the design process is counterproductive and will ultimately slow time-to-market.

Developing one's own prototyping board not only has consequences as far as scheduling but in regards to budgets as well. In order to develop a prototyping board, a designer must invest in a logic analyzer, Workbench, ESD protection, clock generation, arbitrary waveform generator (ARB), and a power supply. Since the designer's homemade prototyping board will reside outside of the PC tower, it is likely that damage will be done to some of the components, incurring additional expenses in order to replace those damaged parts.

Close coordination

In response to these common design problem, Aldec Inc. has been working directly with its customer base in order to install a universal prototyping board directly into the customer's PC without any external JTAG ports, cables or power sources. This has proven to be the most efficient way to design, prototype and verify the design's functional behavior under the control of the RTL simulator on an event-by-event basis. The commercial prototyping board resides entirely in the user's PC so that no damage can come to the board.

By incorporating a prefabricated prototyping board into the design cycle, customers receive instant confirmation that the design's functionality represented in software is working correctly in hardware.

The testing board allows the bit file containing synthesis and implementation results to automatically be transferred to the FPGA. The user then has the design in its entirety residing on the prototyping board and can be tested in real-time with the added benefit of being able to make any necessary modifications back in the software environment. The testbench stays in software but presides over both the hardware and software elements.

The commercial prototyping board can be navigated directly from a user's software environment and it solves many design problems associated with designing very high capacity FPGAs. The main benefits of FPGA design - inexpensive silicon that can also be reused--are maintained and the huge design sizes are now offset with an auxiliary hardware board. Further, the commercial prototyping board can be reused without having the need to make any changes to the hardware. Implementing a commercial hardware board in the FPGA design cycle is the only way to ensure that design schedules will be met with ease.

- Stanley Hyduke


Aldec Inc.

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