There are a lot more FPGA design starts these days than ASIC design starts. But with FPGAs approaching the size and complexity of ASICs, they bring along many of the same verification issues. For many FPGA designers, simulation is just too slow and error-prone. Intellectual property (IP) behaves differently in simulation than it does on real hardware.
ASIC design works its way toward a known-good chip by means of multiple iterations of synthesis/place and route. FPGA design, on the other hand, starts with a known-good chip. That's what startup GateRocket is exploiting in its flagship product, the RocketDrive. RocketDrives take advantage of the actual target FPGA to deliver simulation acceleration that ranges from a factor of 10 to a factor of 100.
The RocketDrive is a hardware unit that fits into a standard 5.25-in. PC form factor. A PCI interface card and software come with it. The system is scalable to up to eight RocketDrives for system-level verification. RocketDrives are used to enhance existing verification flows using standard register-transfer-level (RTL) simulators from vendors such as Cadence, Mentor Graphics, and Synopsys.
In a typical simulation flow, the device under test (DUT), testbench, IP, and custom logic are all run in the simulator itself. But with a RocketDrive flow, any or all of the parts of the FPGA design can be run in the RocketDrive on the native device (see the figure). Currently, GateRocket supports the Altera Stratix-II and Xilinx Virtex-4 families, with support for the Stratix-III and Virtex-5 devices coming later this year.
The "device-native" approach used in RocketDrives gets around the need that arises in traditional emulation environments to map the DUT into proprietary hardware. Rather, the actual FPGA that will be used in the end product is linked with the software simulation environment.
RocketDrives for the Altera Stratix-II and Xilinx Virtex-4 FPGA families are available now. Pricing starts at $25,000.