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Virtual prototype support rolls out

Posted: 29 Nov 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Bluespec? simulator? simulators? prototype design? designing prototypes?

Bluespec Inc. will roll out within the week a new version of its Bluesim simulator that supports virtual prototyping for software development and hardware validation.

Based on SystemVerilog, Bluesim brings high-level modeling and hardware implementation into one tool set, the company said. Bluesim was developed for source-level debugging of designs before synthesis with the company's Bluespec Compiler, which generates synthesizable RTL code from SystemVerilog or SystemC. Positioning a SystemVerilog simulator as an "ESL" offering may be controversial, but Bluespec claims to offer proprietary constructs that raise the abstraction level well above RTL.

Shiv Tasker, Bluespec's CEO, said his company's constructs let users build cycle-approximate and cycle-accurate transaction-level models. That allows simulation speeds ranging between 4x and 1,000x faster than RTL simulation, he said, depending on the level of detail in the model. Bluesim doesn't support untimed transaction-level models, however; it is a two-state, cycle-accurate simulator.

Bluesim is not a standalone simulator. It works only with designs that use the Bluesim language extensions, and the code that uses those constructs can only be simulated in Bluesim. However, the RTL code synthesized by Bluespec will run in any Verilog simulator.

Oh say can you C
One of the new features in Bluesim is a direct C-language interface that is said to eliminate co-simulation overhead. George Harper, vice president of marketing at Bluespec, said users can make direct C calls, interface directly to C-language testbenches and run functional blocks that contain C-language algorithms.

The simulator has also been speeded up, Harper said. With the new release, he said, RTL simulation will run 4x to 15x faster than traditional event-driven simulation. The previous solution was about half that fast, he said, and there's more to come.

"We rearchitected the implementation," said Harper. "We're not performance-optimized now, but we expect to see more improvements over time."

Also new is an interactive debugging interface with an ability to set breakpoints. Finally, the new version of Bluesim adds a capability to support blocks running in different clock domains.

With all the new capabilities, Bluespec claims that Bluesim can now be used as a virtual prototyping environment for the development of software drivers, initialization and diagnostics, firmware and microcode, as well as early modeling of hardware. It runs fast enough for a user to boot an operating system, Tasker said.

Several virtual prototyping tools today let users develop and debug software on extremely fast models of system hardware. These tools generally come with processor models as well.

While Bluespec claims comparable speeds to existing prototyping tools for the equivalent level of detail, the company does not offer any processor models. But Bluesim can use external processor models, Tasker said. For example, he said, a user could take an external model of an ARM core, combine it with a Bluespec model for a memory controller and run it all together in one simulation.

Further, Harper said, the underlying SystemVerilog model in Bluesim can be taken directly to RTL implementation. "Modeling and implementation have been two separate environments in the past, but with Bluespec, you're getting a single environment for doing all that stuff," he said. The virtual prototyping capability is best used for software that has hardware dependencies, Harper said. That would include drivers and firmware.

"Really getting an accurate view of the hardware as early as possible is the key driver to helping the software development team," he said.

The new version of Bluesim is shipping now, priced at $39,000 for a one-year license.

- Richard Goering
EE Times

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