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Agilent spins mixed-signal scope dynamic probe for Xilinx FPGAs

Posted: 05 Nov 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:n5397a? fpga dynamic probe? xilinx? fpga? agilent technologies?

If you're working with a high-speed digital design, you likely face formidable measurement challenges every day. Unfortunately, in spite of tight project schedules and highly constrained budgets, engineering teams are being asked to design products with unprecedented responsiveness, function, and reliability.

At the same time, design defects in complex systems may only occur in realtime when multiple subsystems and software interact. That's especially true for high-density designs using processors that are embedded in ASICs and FPGAs. Tracing software execution in an FPGA can be difficult. At the same time, higher clock speeds and faster risetimes also require you to address signal integrity.

In-circuit debug presents several challenges. FPGA clock speeds can run in excess of 200MHz, and multiple circuits running at different clock speeds can exist within a single FPGA. Also, FPGA BGA (ball grid array) packaging makes probing difficult if not impossible. What's more, signals that were previously available on a board's traces may now exist exclusively as nodes within an FPGA chip.

Gaining visibility
Addressing these issues, and promising to reduce development time, Agilent Technologies is debuting what it says is the industry's first FPGA dynamic probe application.

Slated for use with Agilent's existing Infiniium mixed-signal oscilloscopes (MSOs), the new N5397A FPGA dynamic probe is expressly for debugging Xilinx FPGAs. It supports Xilinx's virtex-4, virtex-ii pro, Virtex-II Series, and the Spartan-3 series chips.

In use, the N5397A automatically turns on the appropriate digital channels or buses according to the selected signal bank, and automatically maps internal signal names from the FPGA design tool to the MSO channel labels. Signal mapping naming capabilities helps eliminate mistakes and the time needed to manually setup signal and bus names, and logic cable connections.

Agilent claims its MSOs are effective FPGA debug and validation tools because they correlate digital signal activity inside an FPGA with analog characteristics outside the FPGAin realtime. In-circuit debug of FPGAs can help immediately uncover (sometimes in scant seconds) problems that previously would have required days, weeks, or even months to simulate.

For certain types of validation, designers using FPGAs can bypass the time-consuming process of creating test benches, too, with the actual system under test providing a robust test environment. This is what enables the shift of emphasis toward in-circuit validation rather than simulation.

On-chip virtual probing
According to Agilent, its new application will reduce the overall time and cost involved validation of designs using FPGAs. To do that, the N5397A FPGA dynamic probe interacts with an on-chip virtual probing technology, enabling the MSOs to capture up to 32 internal FPGA signals for each debug pin, correlated to external analog activity.

It's worth noting that conventional test-and-measurement equipment can measure only one internal FPGA signal for each debug pin. In contrast, the new Infiniium MSO application enables you to select new groups of internal signals to probe, without requiring time-consuming design re-compiles.

Being able to change probe points in seconds, instead of hours, will let you rapidly validate Xilinx FPGAs. Until now, changing probe points inside an FPGA could take hours because you'd likely have to change your design and re-compile your FPGA in order to select a new group of internal signals. Each design re-compile could take several hours, and may need to be repeated as many as 50 times before all your problems were isolated and resolved.

Instantaneous selection
When used with an Agilent Infiniium MSO, the N5397A lets you instantaneously select which groups of internal signals are to be probed. Up to 32 internal probe points are accessible on each physical debug pin that is connected to one of the 16 digital input channels on the Infiniium MSO. This permits 512 internal probe points to be accessed inside the FPGA without changing the design.

In addition, automatic mapping of internal signal names from FPGA design tools to the Infiniium MSO provides identification of on-screen digital waveforms corresponding to internal probe points. The Agilent N5397A has a nearly identical user interface to the B4655A dynamic probe, introduced at eeProductCenter in March of this year, for the Agilent 16900 series, 1680 series and 1690 series logic analyzers. The difference in function comes with the difference in test equipment capabilities and use models.

The N5397A FPGA dynamic probe application for the Infiniium MSO is also compatible with Agilent's Infiniium 54830 series MSOs with system software revision A.03.90, or higher, based on Windows XP Pro. The Infiniium 54830 aeries MSOs display two or four analog channels with 16 digital timing channels.

Agilent also offers its E5396A 17-channel soft touch connectorless probe. Compatible with the 40-pin logic cable connect on the Infiniium MSO, the E5396A measures only 7-by-22mm in size, a feature Agilent claims is the smallest footprint available. Loading is also

The N5397A FPGA dynamic probe is priced at about $3,000. Shipments are expected in January 2005.

- Alex Mendelsohn

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