Electronic Design

Optimism Abounds For Emulation Sector In 2008

Unlike so many of my colleagues within the EDA industry, I’m optimistic about 2008. That’s because the emulation market sector is on the rise and I believe we could see double-digit growth in this sector. Yes, I’m defying the paltry 2% growth some EDA executives have forecast for the entire industry. This optimism is a result of renewed attention to emulation due to several factors, but especially the complexity in hardware design. Combine the complexity challenge with the need to include embedded software in the development mix, and the need for emulation becomes acute. Indeed, the system-on-a-chip (SoC) revolution has been a boon for the emulation sector, as software and hardware are merged to form a complete system. With emulation, hardware design and software development teams can share the same system and design representations, and collaborate when debugging complex interactions between hardware and software. Emulation platforms provide an all-in-one system for hardware debugging and embedded software validation. Huge growth opportunities for the emulation sector are to be found in multimedia, graphics, wireless, and processor designs that require billions of verification cycles to move meaningful data in and out of them. Traditionally, such data would be generated and consumed by a physical target system in a deployment known as in-circuit emulation (ICE). But a better approach called transaction-based verification is gaining momentum. In such an approach, the data is generated and consumed in a virtual system built in the early stages of the design creation process, via high-level abstraction languages such as C, C++, SystemC, or SystemVerilog. Through a transaction-based interface, the emulation platform can take charge of any register transfer-level (RTL) block or blocks of the design and interface them with other portions of the design at the electronic system level (ESL). This approach has the benefit of moving the deployment of the emulator upstream in the design cycle, a move that has opened the door to boundless applications. When implementing a multi-level debugging approach more opportunities arise from the ability of a fast emulation platform––the faster, the better. This has been impossible with software simulators or even traditional accelerator/emulators, because they are too slow to process embedded software. In a multi-level debugging approach, designers can navigate between different levels of abstraction. Embedded software is at the highest level. Once the design team has localized problems at that level, it can start to focus and move to the lower level of abstraction. That second level is implemented by monitors, checkers, and assertions that help narrow down the problem and trace its origin. Once the team has exhausted the information available at those two levels, it moves down to the signal level and obtains the RTL waveform of the identified period of time. The ability to navigate between those different abstraction levels, software through hardware, is the way to avoid huge simulation runs and creation of mountains of detailed data. The latest generation of hardware-emulator platforms has moved beyond the drawbacks associated with older emulation systems. These platforms offer tremendous capacity and performance, with some priced to accommodate every engineer’s budget. These new emulators are easier to set up and use, and are more accessible to both SoC designers and embedded software for hardware/software co-verification at several megahertz performance for mid-sized to large designs. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve become true productivity enhancers and help get consumer electronics products to market on time and within budget. And, the semiconductor industry can expect some exciting announcements in 2008. They could include the launch of emulation platforms that are more aware of the flow of embedded software to better manage the number of simulation cycles needed by software engineers. The trick––or the breakthrough, perhaps––will be the ability to display information relevant to both hardware designers and software engineers. The emulation sector has much to look forward to in 2008. It’s an exciting and growing part of EDA and I believe it will have a stellar year.

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