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FPGA Prototyping Could Become Mainstream Again

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

Since the very early days of ASIC design engineers have prototyped their ASIC development using FPGA devices in order to debug and verify the design.  The advantage is that the Device Under Test (DUT) runs at speeds that are much greater than those achievable with traditional simulation and in most cases equal or nearly equal those of the actual device.  This is particularly useful in debugging the product’s  firmware, but it also helps in various hardware situations.

FPGA prototyping is not just a thing of the past, before the introduction of emulators, it is a technique used today by many development teams.  Given the imminent development and introduction o a large number of small systems in the IoT architecture, I expect that there will be even more use of FPGA prototyping.  I asked the input of three representatives of EDA companies to get a better picture of the state of affairs.  One, Zibi Zalewski, General Manger of the Hardware Products Division at Aldec, represents the views of what I consider a middle size vendor, while Troy Scott, Product Marketing Manager at Synopsys represent the view of a large company that has a group dedicated explicitly to supporting FPGA prototyping of ASIC designs.  Frank Schirrmeister, Group Director for Product Marketing of the System Development Suite at Cadence,represents a company that competes for the number one position in the emulation and acceleration tools market.

Due to the length of the resulting article I chose to publish the three contributions as separate articles, and to group them herein my blog to give you, the reader, additional flexibility in covering the topic.

A Historical Approach

Zibi reviewed FPGA prototyping from an historical point of view.  He reminisced about his days as a development engineer and compared the requirement at that time with the development environment available today.  You can read his contribution at: http://chipdesignmag.com/sld/blog/2015/02/12/asic-prototyping-with-fpga/.

Using FPGA Prototyping for Faster System Validation

Synopsys has always been focused on the design and development of semiconductor devices since its inception, and has entered the market of FPGA based designs mostly in order to support ASIC prototyping.  You can read what Troy Scott sent me at this address: http://chipdesignmag.com/sld/blog/2015/02/12/asic-prototypes-take-the-express-lane-for-faster-system-validation/.

A Prototyping with FPGA Approach

Frank Schirrmeister provided a view of prototyping that frames it within the present efforts to decrease development time, the so called “shift left” approach or the recently proposed Agile IC Methodology.  You can read his thoughts here: http://chipdesignmag.com/sld/blog/2015/02/12/a-prototyping-with-fpga-approach/.

Conclusion

Although some may think that FPGA prototyping is a methodology that has seen its prime, the focus on IoT architecture, which use a large number of small, focused, systems, will revive this development method, since, in many cases, companies will be able to avail themselves of a fixed general purpose control subsystem and a function based data acquisition subsystem.  I in fact, envision development systems available fr purchase that offer a control and data analysis standard system and allow designers to include the sensor and circuitry specific to the function to generate a complete FPGA based prototyping environment.

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