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Next-gen embedded designs demand parallel test

Posted: 16 Aug 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:parallel test? embedded system design? integrated system design platforms? multicore?

Truchard: Today's embedded devices are more functionally rich than the designs of the past.

The embedded device industry is facing an interesting quandary: Systems are more complex while time constraints are tighter, and quality expectations are higher. Today's embedded devices are more functionally rich than the designs of the past. Intricate systems combining FPGAs, microprocessors, cameras and motion sensors control everything from autonomous Lego robots to CERN's Large Hadron Collider. These devices are often safety-regulated and contain high software content, rendering traditional black-box testing less effective, and making the once-dreaded bottleneck of verification and test the new holy grail of design.

Clearly, traditional test methods no longer sufficeengineers and embedded developers do not have time for manual measurements and cannot risk finding critical defects at the end of their manufacturing processes. Moreover, the Asian market adds unique challenges, such as the need for integration across global development cycles and sometimes intense cost pressures. Thus, innovative tools, technologies and methodologies are required for embedded designers to compete. Without new tools, embedded device designers must become top-notch test engineers and specialists in leading technologies and integration.

More effective measurement
The good news is that technology is helping a lot. From new data buses and multicore chips to concurrent software, embedded designers have hope. Developers can now test faster by implementing parallel processing and parallel measurements.

The shift to multicore is eliminating the time constraints caused by traditional sequential-based single-core testing platforms. Because of this shift, engineers and scientists can process and analyze data in parallel if they have the right tools. Inherently, parallel software languages make it possible for engineers and scientists to maximize the performance of their applications on multicore systems with little or no code changes.

If engineers can process in parallel, they also want to be able to measure more effectively. Parallel measurements require each of the system subcomponentsnot just the processing componentto support a parallel model. The most common data transfer buses today (PCI, USB, LAN and general-purpose interface bus) do not support a truly parallel data transfer model because devices on the bus share bandwidth. As the number of tasks increase, the amount of available bandwidth to each task decreases. Engineers can remove this bottleneck by choosing a data bus providing dedicated bandwidth (such as PCIe) to each new measurement device. PCIe in an x4 lane configuration provides up to 1GBps of dedicated bandwidth to each measurement device. Adopting the latest bus technology is helping embedded engineers around the world test their complex designs faster through parallel computation.

While PCIe opens up more applications to use software processing on the host, the latest high-speed digital electronics software may also need to reside within the hardware itself for real-time response. FPGAs provide an optimal solution to this need, because they use software to define the capability of the hardware. Thus, they respond at hardware speeds.

The future of embedded design is heading toward an even more efficient era during which many developers will implement their designs and tests with integrated system design platforms. Graphical system design provides a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and software platform that empowers developers to use the same intuitive software for device design and test, while leveraging a versatile hardware platform for verifying designs, validating prototypes and testing deployed devices. Embedded designers benefit from this approach by being able to create first-generation products based on COTS devices and moving toward custom solutions as the product wins in the market. The product then undergoes refinements based on customer feedback and receives certifications, as in the case of medical devices. In the end, a platform-based design process delivers the ultimate in software skill and hardware reuse, saving time and money for vendors and customers around the world.

- James Truchard
President, CEO and Co-founder
National Instruments Corp.




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