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Bridge software and hardware to speed up SoC validation

Posted: 11 Jul 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:systems-on-chip? software? firmware? debug?

As systems-on-chips (SoCs) continue to increase in complexity, it is no longer possible to disregard the challenges caused by the convergence of software and hardware development. These highly functional systems now include a complex mix of software, firmware, embedded processors, GPUs, memory controllers, and other high-speed peripherals. This increased functional integration, combined with faster internal clock speeds and complex, high-speed I/O, means that delivering a functional and fully validated system is harder than ever.

Traditionally, software validation and debug and hardware validation and debug have been separate worlds. Often, software and hardware teams work in isolation, with the former concentrating on software execution within the context of the programming model, and the latter debugging within the hardware development framework, where clock-cycle accuracy, parallel operation and the relationship of debug data back to the original design is key. In theory, fully debugged software and hardware should work flawlessly together. But in the real world that is rarely the case, a fact that often leads to critical cost increases and time-to-market delays.

To deliver increased integration within a reasonable cost and time, the industry must transition to a new approach C design for visibility. Said another way, engineers must design, upfront, the ability to deliver a full system view if we are going to be able to continue to validate and debug these systems effectively. The key is to be able to understand causal relationships between behaviors that span hardware and software domains. This article describes an approach to debugging an SoC using embedded instruments, and shows how the integration of hardware and software debug views can lead to faster and more efficient debug of the entire system.

Figure 1: Baseline test bed SoC.

Building test bed
The test bed SoC shown in figure 1 is composed of a 32bit RISC instruction set processor, connected to an AMBA AHB system bus, and AMBA APB peripheral bus. The SoC also contains a DDR2 memory controller, a gigabit Ethernet network adapter, a Compact Flash controller, VGA controller and number of low-speed peripheral interfaces. The SoC runs Debian GNU Linux operating system version 4 running kernel v2.6.21. The processor core operates at 60MHz, the DDR memory controller at 100MHz, and the other I/O peripherals operate at their native frequencies between 33MHz and 12MHz. The entire SoC is implemented on a Virtex-5 development board.

Together, this system is a fully-functional computer able to provide terminal-based user access, connect to the Internet, run applications, mount file systems, etc. The SoC is characteristic of those that create complex debug scenarios, and stress the capabilities of both hardware and software debug infrastructures. In most cases, key operations span hardware and software.

Debug infrastructures
Processor core developers generally provide debug infrastructures, either as a fixed set of features for a given core or as a configurable add-on to a family of cores. In either case, the debug infrastructure becomes a part of the manufactured core. Debug software then uses this infrastructure to provide debug features to software developers.

The processor core highlighted here supports a basic set of debug capabilities similar to those available on most modern processors, including those from Intel, AMD, IBM, Oracle and ARM. In this case, a "back-door" accessible via JTAG allows a software debugger, for example GDB, to read and write memory in the system and detect the operational state of the processor. Through these mechanisms, along with access to the original software source code, GDB and other software debuggers can provide software breakpoints, single-step operation, examination of variable values, stack tracing, configuration of initial conditions, alternation of memory values and resume functionality.

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