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Breaking The Three Laws
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    Breaking the Three Laws is dedicated to discussing technically challenging ASIC prototyping problems and sharing solutions.
  • About the Author

    Michael (Mick) Posner joined Synopsys in 1994 and is currently Director of Product Marketing for Synopsys' FPGA-Based Prototyping Solutions. Previously, he has held various product marketing, application consultant and technical marketing manager positions at Synopsys. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Electronic and Computer Engineering from the University of Brighton, England.

Archive for the 'Getting Started' Category

FPMM Book Achieves Major Milestone, More than 8000 Copies Distributed

Posted by Michael Posner on 14th November 2014

FPMM Book Cover. FPMM is the holy grail of FPGA-based prototyping unlocking the secrets to successful prototyping

Recently Synopsys promoted that “Synopsys Virtual Prototyping Book Achieves Milestone of More Than 3000 Copies in Distribution to Over 1000 Companies” – http://news.synopsys.com/2014-11-05-Synopsys-Virtual-Prototyping-Book-Achieves-Milestone-of-More-Than-3000-Copies-in-Distribution-to-Over-1000-Companies Virtual Prototyping continues to gain momentum including Hybrid Prototyping, which combines Virtual Prototyping with FPGA-based prototyping. The VP book statistics prompted me to have a look at the FPGA-based Prototyping Methodology Manual, FPMM statistics.

To date there have been over 6000 FPMM downloads across 2800 different companies and over 2500 free books handed out. WOW. I expect a bit of overlap between the two but still that’s got to be over 8000 copies distributed. I’m happy that the FPMM has been able to help so many engineers around the world.

Looking at the challenges facing these prototypers, below image, you can see that conversion of ASIC to FPGA is still rated as #1.

Challenges identified by prototypers who downloaded the FPMM. These challenges are solved by integration of HW and SW prototyping tools such as the Synopsys HAPS and ProtoCompiler products

Actually the #2 challenge, clocking issues, really falls into the this same category. As previously blogged, these challenges are not solved with just software or just hardware changes, they are solved by integration. When the software has built in understanding of the hardware and when the hardware can be customized to the needs of the SoC many of the challenges disintegrate.

A great example of the value of integration is the DesignWare IP Prototyping Kits which are part of the Synopsys IP Accelerated Initiative. DesignWare IP prototyping kits deliver a comprehensive IP subsystem which enables immediate productivity for both Hardware and Software engineers. Individually IP & FPGA-based prototyping deliver value but when combined the value is increased. It’s like the 1+1 = 3.

Talking of IP, DesignWare USB 3.1 IP is now available. http://www.synopsys.com/Company/PressRoom/Pages/usb-3-1-news-release.aspx . I have been talking about USB 3.1 for a while now and blogged about it here. You can also find a video of the DesignWare IP for USB 3.1 running on the HAPS-70 systems here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isQ7cvuyoTw

Enjoy

Do you have a topic you would like me to blog about? If so, drop me a comment and I’ll pop it in the queue.

Posted in FPGA-Based Prototyping, FPMM Methods, Getting Started, IP Validation, Technical, Tips and Traps | 1 Comment »

3 Phase Approach to Successful Prototyping

Posted by Michael Posner on 30th October 2014

Synopsys' three phase approach, best practices and methodology for successful prototyping

In previous blogs I have spoken a lot about automation, features and capabilities which accelerate time to operational prototype and deliver higher performance enabling you to run more software against your design representation. These capabilities are designed to reduce the need for prototyping expertise and effort……..  but not to zero. Anyone who tells you that no expertise or effort is needed is not telling you the whole truth. This was the basis of this blog, “Breaking the three laws” of which the first law is ASIC are FPGA Hostile! Who can tell me what the other two laws are? I know but this is like a quiz for my readers.

Pictures in the blog are posted large so they are easier to read, click on the picture to see the full view version.

Synopsys has created a simple three phase definition for FPGA-based prototyping, including methodology guidelines and I am happy to share them with you. The three phases split into 1. Make Design FPGA Ready. 2. Bring Up Functional Prototype. 3. Optimize Prototype Performance. Follow these three phases and you will be on a path for FPGA-based prototyping success.

Synopsys' definition of the three phases of FPGA-based prototyping. Follow this methodogy for success

Make Design FPGA Ready

This is probably the most important step as the rule of thumb is garbage in, garbage out. There is only so much automation a tool can deliver so understanding the basic needs and best practices for FPGA-based prototyping is essential. Synopsys ProtoCompiler can help here with automated ASIC to FPGA translation, clock conversion and replication as needed. However you should always follow the best practices defined here to yield better results in the final implementation. Don’t forget, full best practices can be found in the FPMM, FPGA-based Prototyping Methodology Manual.

Synopsys' Phase 1, Make Design FPGA Ready. Automation through ProtoCompiler

Bring Up Functional Prototype

Once code is prepared the bring up functional prototype phase is entered. This is the phase with the goal of getting the prototype up and running as quickly as possible, TTFP, enabling the team to hand off a platform to the software developers. The faster they get a platform the most productive they can be. Even if you have traded off a little performance to get the fastest time to prototype your software team will thank you for the fast enablement. ProtoCompiler and HAPS helps here, especially in the partition phase, I recently blogged about this: Abstract Partition Flow Advantage. Another important best practice is to plan your debug needs upfront in this phase, don’t treat it as an afterthought. This is exactly why in the ProtoCompiler flow debug is highlighted ensuring you at least give it some thought.

Synopsys' Phase 2, Bring Up Functional Prototype, use HAPS and ProtoCompiler for fastest time to operational prototype

Optimize Prototype Performance

As you have already delivered an operational prototype to your software team you have a little breathing space now to focus on performance optimizations. In the fast turn-around abstract partition flow ProtoCompiler might have identified some bottlenecks that you skipped past in order to achieve fastest time to prototype. Now you have time to focus on these and other areas of the FPGA-based prototype to squeeze the most out of the solution. An example of this was shared with me recently where the prototype was fully operational at 9 MHz but with a little more effort, new partition and careful analysis of critical paths, the prototype performance was increased to 13 MHz. What a great improvement.

Synopsys' Phase 3, Optimize Prototype Performance. Using HAPS and ProtoCompiler will enable the highest possible customization for performance

So there it is, three simple phased approach ensuring successful prototyping, enjoy!

Happy Halloween, here is the costume that I built, I call it Atomic Dinosaur. I am a construction spray foam  master and it has LED lights down it’s back too!

Mick's Atomic Dinosaur costume

That’s some crazy eyes I’ve got going on…………….

Posted in FPGA-Based Prototyping, FPMM Methods, Getting Started, Technical, Tips and Traps | No Comments »

Synopsys’ New ProtoCompiler Software Speeds Time to Prototype

Posted by Michael Posner on 28th April 2014

 

Synopsys just announced ProtoCompiler which is automation and debug software for HAPS FPGA-Based Prototyping Systems. ProtoCompiler is the result of years of R&D effort to generate a tool that addresses prototypers challenges today and built on top of an architecture which can support the needs of prototypers long into the future. ProtoCompiler focuses on the needs of prototypers specifically addressing the need for accelerated bring up as well as providing capabilities which result in higher system performance as compared to existing solutions. In this blog I’ll discuss some of the technical details behind the main tool highlights. Below are the detailed highlihts.

  • Integrated HAPS hardware and ProtoCompiler software accelerate time to prototype bring-up and improves prototype performance
  • Automated partitioning across multiple FPGAs decreases runtime from hours to minutes for up to 250 million ASIC gate designs
  • Enables efficient implementation of proprietary pin multiplexing for 2x faster prototype performance
  • Captures seconds of trace data with gigabytes of storage capacity for superior debug visibility

(Read to the end of the blog if you also want an update on Mick’s Projects)

Highlight: Integrated HAPS hardware and ProtoCompiler software accelerate time to first prototype bring-up and improves prototype performance

As noted above the goal of ProtoCompiler is to accelerate the bring up of a prototype as well as providing a path to the fastest possible operating performance. ProtoCompiler is unique as it combines hardware/software expertise with intimate knowledge to deliver superior results. Think of it as delivering a HAPS hardware expert packaged up into a format that anyone using the tool can access. ProtoCompiler has deep technical knowledge of the HAPS hardware including configuration, clocking structures, interconnect architecture, pin multiplexing expertise and more. ProtoCompiler is not only a hardware expert, it’s also a software expert. ProtoCompiler is built on top of a state of the art Synopsys proprietary prototyping database that means RTL is effectively processed and incremental and multi-processing techniques can be deployed with ease.

All this results in blazingly fast processing speeds. As an example ProtoCompiler’s area estimation, essential for automated partitioning, can processed 36 Million ASIC gates in less than 4 hours as compared to 22 hours in existing solutions. Now that’s fast!. Thanks to the new data model and incremental modes all subsequent compiles are even quicker.

Highlight: Automated partitioning across multiple FPGAs decreases runtime from hours to minutes for up to 250 million ASIC gate designs

So there are actually two announcements packaged up in this highlight. Starting in reverse ProtoCompiler supports 250 Million ASIC gate and larger designs. Humm, this sounds a little suspect as when HAPS-70 was launched it only supported 144 Million ASIC gates, what does ProtoCompiler know that we don’t? Luckily I know, HAPS-70 can now be scaled to support 288 Million ASIC gates, 2x the capacity. HAPS-70 now supports chaining of any six systems so if you chain six HAPS-70 S48’s you get a total of 288 Million ASIC gates supported which is 24 Xilinx Virtex-7 2000T FPGA’s. All working in one synchronous system.

Any 3 HAPS systems can be chained via our standard control and data exchange cabling, when you go above 3 systems you utilize a synchronization module that manages the system synchronization. Managing clock skew, reset distribution and configuration is all handled automatically. ProtoCompiler understands the hardware capabilities thus making deployment of such a system a snap. No longer do your engineers have to worry about how to distribute clocking, we have done the hard work so you don’t have to. Other vendors “claim” scalability and modularity but if all they are delivering is boards then it’s nothing more than a wild claim. To deploy a scalable and modular system you need a complete solution of software and hardware. You can now prototype SoC designs you thought never possible

The first part of the highlight introduces the new partition technology deployed in ProtoCompiler. ASIC’s are bigger than a single FPGA so you need to quickly partition the design across multiple FPGA’s. Historically this has been a challenge but with ProtoCompiler that challenge has been overcome. The partition engine in ProtoCompiler requires minimal setup before you can apply it to your design. There are four simple steps to setup the partition engine #1 Create target system, basically which system(s) you are compiling to. #2 Establish basic constraints which are things like blocks of IO. #3 Define the design clocks. #4 Propose an interconnect structure. Actually #4 can either be defined telling the partition engine to use a set interconnect architecture or leave it open and let the tool do it. There are advantages of both. By letting the tool pick the needed architecture the resulting system should be higher performance as ProtoCompiler will maximize interconnect to reduce pin multiplexing ratio. In a previously deployed system you may have already set the interconnect and then want the tool to use the available resources so you don’t make any changes to the hardware in the field. ProtoCompiler has the flexibility to do both meeting the needs of new prototype creation and image re-spin after a new RTL code drop.

ProtoCompiler partition engine is FAST, using the same example as above, 36 Million ASIC gates, ProtoCompiler was able to come to an automated solution is 4 minutes!!! WOW. ProtoCompiler provides a huge amount of information as to what it automatically did so that the engineer can quickly review the results and maybe provide ProtoCompiler more guidance to optimize the partition. For example after the first run you might want to lock down select parts of the design and then incrementally run the engine to push it to find a better solution for the rest of the design. As it runs so fast you can do multiple of these optimization iterations in a matter of hours. I’ve played with the tool as I was interested in this particular capability and have to say it’s amazing. I’ve tried the open method and let the tool find a solution for itself, in this mode ProtoCompiler pretty much finds a solution every time. I also played with challenging the tool for example locking the tool to use only 100 IO’s (two HT3 connectors) between FPGA’s. ProtoCompiler quickly finishes and told me that I was crazy and that the design could never be partitioned with my selected interconnect architecture.

Highlight: Enables efficient implementation of proprietary pin multiplexing for 2x faster prototype performance

OK, this is simple, this basically says that ProtoCompiler can automatically deploy the HAPS High Speed Time-Domain Multiplexing (HSTDM). HSTDM is developed and optimized on HAPS and ProtoCompiler packages up this expertize and automated the deployment. The partition engine will automatically select HSTDM and instance it into the prototype design. HSTDM delivers high performance pin multiplexing between multiple FPGA’s. The signals are packaged up, sent across a high performance link and unpacked at the other side. This all happens within one system clock and is completely transparent to the user. No manual intervention, no additional latency, and it’s stable and reliable as HSTDM is tested as part f the HAPS production testing and every system has to pass the minimum HSTDM performance tests. This ensures that when you deploy am image with HSTDM that it runs on every system the image is loaded on. No need to tailor the pin multiplexing implementation for each board like you have to do with other vendors.

Highlight: Captures seconds of trace data with gigabytes of storage capacity for superior debug visibility

ProtoCompiler expands the debug capabilities and grows the HAPS Deep Trace Debug capability which utilizes off-FPGA memory to store debug data. ProtoCompiler provides seamless multi-FPGA debug capabilities on top of a set of other debug capabilities tailored to delivering visibility at the right level of the debug cycle.

In debug one size does not fit all, you need to deploy the right level of debug visibility capability dependent on what you are trying to debug and the specific point you are in the project cycle. Sometimes you want very wide debug visibility with fast incremental turn-around. Later in the design cycle you typically want very, very deep debug windows. ProtoCompiler delivers both, fully automated through the flow, seamless and transparent to the users. And when I say deep, I mean deep, the example below is very typical of the debug window where you can easily capture seconds of debug data.

As usual my blogs got really long. I wrote it in the car while driving from Portland to Eugene. Amazing that I could type all of this and drive at the same time (LOL, only joking I was in the passenger seat)

Anyway, ProtoCompiler is the bees knees and I personally think it revolutionizes FPGA-based prototyping using HAPS. What do you think of ProtoCompiler?

If you have managed to get this far into my blog then congratulations. I’ve been taking it easy this week while I recover from the pneumonia that I came down with. In the evenings I finished off the two mini RC tracked vehicles I had been working on. The basis of both are simple kits which I then modified and added RC receivers and motor controllers to. While I am a grown adult I must admit they are fun to play with. The first is a basic platform RC tracked vehicle which I attached a Lego sheet to. Little did I know that this would be so popular with my son. He has been building towers and all types of structures on top of it.

Why drive your car to a car park when the car park can come to you. No joke that’s what my son said.

Mobile tire store

Bulldozer and sweeper

At the same time I also built a kit that has a shovel that moves on the front. Again I modified it to be radio controlled, including the shovel. This vehicle is a HUGE hit with my son and he has been busy building towers, knocking them down, then tidying them up with the shovel.

There are a couple of video’s of these little things in action on my You Tube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/MrMickPosner (and a video of my chicken food winch system)

Posted in Admin and General, ASIC Verification, Bug Hunting, Debug, Early Software Development, FPGA-Based Prototyping, FPMM Methods, Getting Started, HW/SW Integration, In-System Software Validation, Man Hours Savings, Mick's Projects, Milestones, Project management, System Validation, Technical | Comments Off

Prototyping wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT)

Posted by Michael Posner on 16th March 2014

Is this the future of wearable technology?

LOL, no…. well maybe…..

There are lots of questions on if wearables will bring the end of the Smartphone, I personally think these two technologies will co-exist. I like the idea of wearing my technology but there are many people that don’t thus there should be a place for both technologies for a while yet. Of course for anyone who travels a lot like me they will know that the airport security creates a new issue not previously encountered. I use a fitbit which is a small step tracker and I wear this on my trouser (pant) pocket. It pretty much lives in this spot and I’ve almost put it through the washing machine when I’ve forgotten to take it off. The problem is that this little device has become a part of my life and when going through airport security I’ve also forgotten to take it off which leads to an extra search pat down. A simple solution to this would be for me to remember to take it off but it would be nice if these devices are security certified of something like that.

When it comes to prototyping these deeply embedded SoC designs you will find out that while the form factor is small and simple the SoC designs are not. These designs are multi-million ASIC gates so when they are prototyped using FPGA’s the challenges of handling non-FPGA code, multi-FPGA partitioning and prototype assembly must be overcome. I visited a load of customers last week while traveling internationally and the common theme at the meetings was discussion around how to enable complex FPGA-based prototyping without the need for in-depth specific expertise. The first place to start is to put a methodology in place to define a flow supporting FPGA-based prototyping making a part of the larger SoC project. The FPGA-based Prototyping Methodology Manual, FPMM, is the perfect place to start in defining what is needed as part of this flow.  

I had the pleasure of traveling with Rene Richter, one of the co-authors of the FPMM. In the picture above you can see him explaining the basis of multi-FPGA partitioning and how to utilize pin multiplexing. His expertise helped a lot of customers last week but he was the first to say that everything he explained was already documented in the FPMM.

This week’s call to action, download the FPMM if you have not already done so………… and read it.

I was thinking that it might be time to work on the 2nd revision, updating the FPMM with information on how FPGA-based prototyping has evolved over the last couple of years, what do you think? What do you think has changed in FPGA-based prototyping which should be documented?

Posted in ASIC Verification, FPGA-Based Prototyping, FPMM Methods, Getting Started, Technical, Tips and Traps | Comments Off

FPGA-Based Prototyping Best of the Best

Posted by Michael Posner on 10th January 2014

As it’s my first blog of 2014 (Happy New year and all that) I wanted to reflect back on 2013 and what better way to do that than review the best of the best of my blog postings from 2013. So drum roll please… here is my short list of cracking blog posts from 2013 in chronological order. This is not a list of all the blogs (but it did turn out to be a big list) just the ones that I personally think have the most valuable FPGA-based prototyping information.

Also, check out my new Blog Bio Photo –> 007 Style !!

How IO Interconnect Flexibility and Signal Mux Ratios Affect System Performance

One of the “Breaking The Three Laws” is that your SoC partitioned blocks typically have more signals than physical IO’s on the FPGA. Technically this is not one of the three laws but it should have been and as I own this blog I can make one more up. Welcome to the Breaking The Four [...]

Direct Route or Take the Bus?

Last week’s blog was on direct interconnect density and the effect it has on pin mux ratios. The example focused on using HSTDM but one of the readers correctly pointed out that interconnect density effects any pin muxing scheme, not only HSTDM. The rule of thumb is the greater the density of interconnect routes the [...]

UFC: Cables Vs. PCB Traces

UFC: Cables Vs. PCB Traces With the new HAPS-70 all cable based interconnect architecture we often get asked about overall raw performance of the cables vs. PCB traces. Below is the data on the raw cable and new HapsTrak 3 connector performance. This in itself shows that the cable and connector architecture are cable of running [...]

Jim Hogan falls prey to HAPS cloak of invisibility

I used to own a Ford F350 truck and it was huge with the long wheel base, full bed, extended crew cab measuring a length of about 25 feet (8 meters). The problem was that it came installed with a cloak of invisibility. I didn’t know it had a cloak of invisibility when I purchased [...]

EDACafe Video’s and the best dressed presenter

While at DAC, EDACafe video interviewed me discussing the HAPS-70 FPGA-based prototyping solutions. You can find the video here: http://www10.edacafe.com/video/Synopsys-Mick-Posner-Director-Product-Marketing/40055/media.html I liked the interview style and the whole interview was shot in one take, no breaks and was completed in less than 5 minutes. I think you will find the video informative so please watch [...]

Complex SoC Prototyping using Xilinx Virtex-7 based HAPS-70 Systems

At the recent SNUG UK Paul Robertson from Broadcom presented a paper on their use of FPGA-Based Prototyping for their current generation of SoC’s. For those with Synopsys SolvNet access the paper can be found by following this link: http://www.synopsys.com/Community/SNUG/UK/Pages/Abstracts.aspx?loc=UK&locy=2013#C1 Based on participant votes Paul was awarded with the prestigious “Best of SNUG” award. Congratulations [...]

Understanding IP and IP to SoC Prototyping

I’m presenting at the quarterly GSA Intellectual Property (IP) Working Group Meeting this morning and while reviewing my slides I thought I would blog on a couple of aspects of IP (RTL blocks) and IP to SoC Prototyping. I’ve blogged on this topic before but it was ages ago and even I’ve forgotten what I spoke [...]

Do you use a hammer to put in a screw?

This week I was asked to compare the Synopsys HAPS systems to FPGA vendor evaluation boards. I only have good things to say about the FPGA vendor evaluation boards but when comparing these evaluation boards to HAPS for serious FPGA-Based Prototyping I just said, “That’s like using a hammer to put in a screw”. A [...]

Designing an Electrochemical Cell

A couple of folks complained that my last blogs have been a bit long and boring. (Boring! Me?) So I would like to start this week and apologize to all my 5th Grade readers, I’ll try harder in the future to use smaller words and more pictures. The good news is that this week is [...]

Accelerating Prototyping Hardware Assembly

This week I wanted to focus on a discussion around prototyping hardware assembly. Prototype hardware assembly is the process to tailor FPGA-prototyping hardware to meet the needs of the project. The first type of prototype assembly would be to build a custom platform directly matching the projects requirements. The building of prototyping hardware is the [...]

Xilinx FPGA’s for FPGA-Based Prototyping

If we look at the FPMM survey respondent data it’s clear to see that the favored FPGA device for FPGA-based prototyping is Xilinx devices This week Xilinx announced the Virtex® UltraScale™ VU440 3D IC. http://press.xilinx.com/2013-12-10-Xilinx-Doubles-Industrys-Highest-Capacity-Device-to-4-4M-Logic-Cells-Delivering-Density-Advantage-that-is-a-Full-Generation-Ahead This is the device that Xilinx wants the future generation of FPGA-based prototyping hardware to make use of. Rather than [...]

Tear down of the new HAPS-DX FPGA-based prototyping system

I’ve talked about streamlining IP to SoC prototyping and the use modes that prototypers use for IP validation. This week Synopsys announced the new HAPS Developer eXpress (HAPS-DX) prototyping system. This new HAPS-DX system is perfect for complex IP and subsystem prototyping and ties in nicely with the flow that I have been blogging about [...]

Enjoy!

Posted in Debug, FPGA-Based Prototyping, FPMM Methods, Getting Started, In-System Software Validation, Technical, Tips and Traps | Comments Off

Tear down of the new HAPS-DX FPGA-based prototyping system

Posted by Michael Posner on 20th December 2013

I’ve talked about streamlining IP to SoC prototyping and the use modes that prototypers use for IP validation. This week Synopsys announced the new HAPS Developer eXpress (HAPS-DX) prototyping system. This new HAPS-DX system is perfect for complex IP and subsystem prototyping and ties in nicely with the flow that I have been blogging about for streamlining IP to SoC. Similar to what I did last week with the Xilinx press release I thought I would do a tear down and cut to the chase and detail how HAPS-DX will benefit you.

Oh just so you know, this is a super long blog as I’m going to be on vacation over Christmas and New Year and won’t be blogging for a couple of weeks. With this blog being so long it will take you until 2014 to read. Please, please, please take the time to read it over hot coco and biscuits.

HAPS-DX is targeted at complex IP and subsystem prototyping and its 4 million ASIC gate capacity is perfect for this usage. I know this as Synopsys is the #1 Interface IP provider with DesignWare IP and all these IP’s will fit nicely inside of HAPS-DX. I expect we will see more use of HAPS-DX with DesignWare IP in the future… Using a smaller FPGA with a more basic board form factor means that the price point of HAPS-DX is in line with the expectations of the teams doing complex IP and subsystem prototyping. Complex IP and block design teams are usually more cost sensitive than the wealthy SoC team. Our customers love the HAPS prototyping capabilities but some others think the price of HAPS puts it out of their reach and they have to make do with inferior solutions. Enter HAPS-DX, yay, HAPS premium prototyping capabilities at a price point that satisfies everyone. Contact your local and friendly Synopsys sales person for specific pricing.

A platform like HAPS-DX is essential as more and more IP blocks will be making up the full SoC. To accelerate the time to market of the SoC you need to accelerate all parts of the design and validation tasks starting at the IP level. If you can accelerate the early tasks you can start other SoC activities earlier such as SoC integration and early software development.

Below are the highlights from the press release, which I’ll use these as the main tear down points from this point on.

Highlights:

  1. HAPS Developer eXpress (HAPS-DX) supports up to four million ASIC gates and easily integrates with HAPS-70 systems to enable seamless software development, hardware/software integration and system validation from IP to complete SoCs
  2. HAPS-DX includes optimized software for FPGA synthesis, debug and clock optimization supporting fast prototyping modes to accelerate time-to-first prototype
  3. Superior debug capabilities are built in with HAPS Deep Trace Debug, which can store seconds of signal trace data, and supports Synopsys Verdi, which delivers superior debug visualization
  4. Pre-validated DesignWare IP and access to a broad portfolio of HAPS daughter boards and FPGA Mezzanine Cards (FMCs) enable the quick assembly of prototypes
  5. Included Synopsys Universal Multi-Resource Bus (UMRBus) interface enables hybrid prototyping by providing a seamless connection between HAPS and Synopsys Virtualizer-based virtual prototypes for pre-RTL software development

I numbered the points so it’s easier to refer back to them in the blog. Starting where you would expect me to start, with #1,this point is all about enabling a seamless flow from IP to SoC prototyping. The HAPS-DX is targeted at complex IP and subsystem prototyping but that IP or subsystem usually ends up in an SoC and the last thing you want to do is to repeat the prototyping effort at the SoC level for those same blocks. HAPS-DX was developed with the streamlining of IP to SoC prototyping in mind. HAPS-DX provides reusable hardware and a software flow that is interoperable within a greater SoC project.

As pictured above the HAPS-DX was designed with reuse in mind. The HAPS-DX can be used directly as a daughter board connected to the larger HAPS-70 systems. This means that if IP prototyping is done right the same setup can be quickly incorporated into the SoC level prototype. This translates to reduced effort for the SoC team as the IP team did most of the work for them. The hardware needs to be able to support this usage and a methodology of planning for IP to SoC prototyping needs to be deployed. See here for my previous blog on IP to SoC prototyping. You can use the HAPS High-Speed Time-Domain Multiplexing between HAPS-DX and the HAPS-70 meaning that you are not limited to physical pin connectivity. HAPS HSTDM enables many signals to be packaged up and sent across the high performance link. Value summary: Start software development earlier from SoC prototype being operational earlier.

#2 is going to be a HUGE benefit to the complex IP/Subsystem prototyping teams as well as the SoC teams in the future. Along with HAPS-DX you get prototyping specific software customized for HAPS-DX at extra charge, which is an immediate cost benefit that I know everyone will like. More importantly this software specifically addresses the needs of the ASIC IP and subsystem prototypers, which are a little different than that of pure FPGA synthesis users. As talked about in this blog, the needs of prototypers are different than the needs of a designer targeting an FPGA as part of their final product. This new HAPS software is specifically architected to address the challenges of time to operational prototype, performance, debug and productivity. With this new software you should be able to get the HAPS system up and running faster meaning you get a gain of time to market and as mentioned earlier you can start the SoC integration tasks earlier.

This new HAPS software incorporates the core unique Synopsys technologies along with a new set of capabilities specifically addressing prototyping challenges. At the start of the prototyping project the prototyping engineer is not so worried about squeezing the optimum performance out of the FPGA. They really want to get to a functional prototype as quickly as possible so they have something to hand off to keep the software developers or validation team happy. Once they have handed off that image they can work on optimizing the prototype. The HAPS-DX software delivers on both with capabilities customized for time to first operational prototype and a path to high performance.

What’s not mentioned here directly is that the new software is very ASIC flow like rather than FPGA like. We see a trend that companies no longer have specific “FPGA experts” for prototyping; they use the same validation engineers that are used to working with Design Compiler synthesis scripts and VCS simulators. The HAPS-DX software provides a more ASIC like design flow with bottom up design flow, TCL scripting and multi-processing for improved productivity. FPGA-based prototyping software tools have grown up. Value summary: Start IP validation and software development earlier from earlier prototype availability

#3 is all about debug and the bottom line is that with HAPS-DX you are going to get greater debug visibility, which means you should be able to track down the source of the bug faster and productivity should go up. Debug is a hot topic with respect to FPGA-based prototyping and while there have been point tool solutions trying to solve the problem in the past, the HAPS-DX was designed with the need of debug built right in.

When debugging you want greater visibility and the capability to store more trace data. In a simulator you have almost infinite trace data storage, but in hardware you are limited to the physical storage medium. HAPS-DX delivers software that automates the insertion of debug instrumentation providing a simulator like experience in addition to integrated HAPS Deep Trace Debug built right onto the hardware. This is not a new concept for HAPS, I’ve blogged about these capabilities before, here and here. What is new is that HAPS-DX has it all built-in to both the physical hardware and the included software flow. Now you can quickly add debug capabilities into your prototype right from the get go of the project rather than adding it later when someone is beating on your door for more visibility to find the root cause of a bug.

Here you can see the DDR3 memory directly built into (and supplied with) HAPS-DX. I spoke to the engineer who spearheaded the HAPS Deep Trace Debug capabilities and asked him for an example of the benefit to users. He’s an engineer and answered me in engineering terms. His answer was “Think 128 signals captured at 100 MHz, you have the capability to store 5 seconds of trace data on the 8GB DDR3”. 5 seconds of trace data !!!!! That’s huge in the world of at speed debug. Add to that the fact you can write out FSDB which is the native waveform database for the Verdi debug tool. Verdi is used extensively in the ASIC debug space and now you can use the same capabilities with your HAPS-DX prototype. If you have access to Siloti you can also use the visibility expansion capabilities and get close to 100% visibility of select modules. Value summary: Higher productivity from ability to find and fix bugs faster

#4 is all about easing prototype assembly which I blogged about recently as well (you would almost think I planned all these blogs). I’m won’t comment on the DesignWare IP support, as mentioned above I’ll save that for a future blog. What is important to you is that HAPS-DX supports both the validation modes that you use and enables a huge range of hardware daughter boards so you can tailor the system to your specific project needs. HAPS-DX supports the traditional standalone mode, PCIe connected and the emerging hybrid prototyping use modes. I expect that hybrid is going to be a popular use mode for HAPS-DX as you can immerse the IP in a virtual representation of the SoC without having the actual RTL.

The alternative to buying HAPS-DX would be building a specific FPGA board that meets your project’s needs; it’s the age old make vs. buy. Most engineers think that designing a single FPGA platform is easy, and for an experienced designer it might be. The board can be designed with the needed interfaces built right onto it keeping it cheap to deploy. However, I know many teams that have designed great FPGA boards but still got burnt during the active project. The issue is marketing. Yep, the marketing team comes in with a late change request, the latest example I heard was a shift from USB 2.0 to USB 3.0, and unfortunately the hardware didn’t support the new requirement. The team had to scramble, redesign the boards and the project slipped 3-6 months. Yuck. HAPS-DX’s advantage is that it supports both HapsTrak 3, the same connector standard used with HAPS-70, as well as providing an FMC interface module.

With HT3 you get to pull from the large portfolio of available Synopsys daughter boards and others from 3rd party vendors that provide specialized daughter boards for HAPS systems such as Gigafirm, who I visited while I was in Japan and highlighted in this blog. In addition, the FMC interface module enables you to utilize the HUGE range of FMC style daughter boards available. There are literally 100’s (no joke I counted) of available FMC daughter boards available enabling AD/DA, serial connectivity, imaging processing and many, many more. Basically you get to tailor HAPS-DX the way you like it. It doesn’t get easier than that and even that pesky marketing team can come in and change the requirements on you at the last minute or worse mid project and all it not lost. Simply reconfigure HAPS-DX with a new daughter board expanding its usage to the new requirement. And if that was not enough, when the next project comes along you can reuse HAPS-DX assembled with a new set of daughter boards meeting the requirements of the new project. Value summary: Easy prototype assembly reduces effort and greater reuse increases return on investment

Finally, #5 is all about the more advanced use modes. The HAPS Universal Multi-Resource Bus, UMRBus, is the gateway to connecting the HAPS prototype to host machines. The UMRBus capability is built directly into the HAPS-DX meaning no add-on cost and comes with a set of example designs easing the setup of the prototype. As mentioned above, the hybrid use mode is getting more and more popular especially for IP validation. While it was once fine to validate a block outside of the context of an SoC, the CPU and software have become essential as part of the validation of the IP or subsystem. You actually need to validate the real software against the IP to know that it operates correctly. Enter the PCIe connected modes and hybrid prototyping. These operation modes enable software to be run on a host and executed on the real hardware representation of HAPS-DX. In the hybrid mode you model the system in a virtual prototype such as Virtualizer and then communicate to the HAPS-DX via the UMRBus. Synopsys already provides a library of transactors which act as the translation between the SystemC environment and the signal and pin toggling needed in real hardware. You immerse the IP in a realistic representation of the real SoC ensuring that when the IP is integrated into the larger SoC you already have high confidence that it’s fully operational. Value summary: Greater productivity from rapid deployment of advanced use modes

Oh boy, this blog is huge……. please, please, please take the time to read it. Of course if you are reading this then you have made it to the bottom, congratulations.

So summing up, with HAPS-DX you get a flow from IP to SoC, prototyping software that accelerates the time to first operational prototype, built in debug for greater debug visibility, fast prototyping assembly with HT3 and FMC daughter boards and the support for all expected prototype use modes. Actually the press release bullets nailed the benefits. I still think my tear down of the points will help explain better how each of these benefits affects you more directly.

  • HAPS-DX increases your productivity, making your manager happy
  • HAPS-DX reduces your effort, making you happy
  • HAPS-DX reduces your risk, making everyone happy

Happy Holidays

Posted in ASIC Verification, Debug, FPGA-Based Prototyping, Getting Started, Technical | Comments Off

Invaders from Space: My RTL is an Alien!

Posted by Michael Posner on 4th October 2013

Hot on the heels of last week’s blog on the common mistakes first time prototypers make, Synopsys published a white paper titled “My RTL is an Alien!”.

http://www.synopsys.com/cgi-bin/sld/pdfdla/pdfr1.cgi?file=my-rtl-is-an-alien-wp.pdf

You might mistakenly think that I *plan* my blog posts as this white paper goes into detail on ways to accelerate the bring up of FPGA-based prototypes. This is a perfect continuation of the topic of ease of use. Of course for those of you that know me I didn’t plan and it was a nice surprise.

Anyone who reads this blog (and those that don’t, don’t know what they are missing) know that FPGA-based prototyping is gaining popularity because it provides an economical way to functionally validate an ASIC design by creating a prototype that runs close to “at speed.” FPGA-based prototypes deliver the best platform for pre-silicon early system software development because of this high execution performance. However we also all know that FPGA architectures include resources, building blocks, power circuitry, and clocks that are fundamentally different from those of an ASIC. With over 70% of today’s ASICs and systems-on-chips (SoCs) being prototyped in an FPGA, designers are looking for ways to ease the creation of FPGA-based prototypes directly from the ASIC design source files.

This new paper focuses on how to create an automated process that converts ASIC design source files into a working FPGA-based prototypes. The techniques described will allow you to maintain one “golden” set of files that will work in both your ASIC and FPGA-based design environment so that, with each new revision of your ASIC RTL, you will be able to quickly create a revised FPGA-based prototype.

As I posted a couple of weeks back I’ve been traveling around on business but between that I have managed to get to the race track: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ple1KCmxYs8. This video shows me against a dedicated track car called the Radical. This car and driver was the only person faster than me and I don’t mind getting whipped by superior technology and skills.

This week’s prize spam

I looked up the word entropy and the following are the definitions

Definition of entropy (n)

en·tro·py [ éntrəpee ]   

  1. measure of disorder: a measure of the disorder that exists in a system
  2. measure of unavailable energy: a measure of the energy in a system or process that is unavailable to do work.
  3. measure of efficiency: a measure of the random errors noise occurring in the transmission of signals, and from this a measure of the efficiency of transmission systems

Which definition do you think applies to my blog?

Posted in ASIC Verification, FPGA-Based Prototyping, Getting Started, Humor, Technical, Tips and Traps | Comments Off

Do you have what it takes to be a prototyping super hero?

Posted by Michael Posner on 30th September 2013

I was recently talking to a customer who found that deploying FPGA-based prototyping was a challenge. This was a customer who had only every done simulation for verification purposes. Their last chip incorporated dual embedded processors and unfortunately they had to re-spin the silicon due to a hardware bug that they found only when running the real software. This bug was devastating, the cost was huge as it included the physical costs of the re-spin but worst was the revenue hit from being late to market. This company knew it had to adopt FPGA-Based Prototyping to enable early software development, HW/SW integration and System Validation all PRE-SILICON. The goal was to run the actual software against the hardware and identify HW/SW bugs before code freeze and tape-out.

The process to bring up a prototype was not smooth, they made a couple of key mistakes which I will share with you in an effort to help you avoid these in the future.

#1 – ASIC Code is not FPGA friendly
This is #1 rule from the FPGA-based Prototyping methodology Manual. Their code was full of ASIC specific instances that challenged the initial bring up. One of the problems was that the customer *thought* they could use the FPGA vendor tools for the synthesis. While the FPGA vendors tools seem attractive as they are close to free they do not offer any in-depth prototyping capabilities such as gated clock conversion, DesignWare support and ASIC block conversion. The customer is now looking at utilizing the Synopsys prototyping software tools that provide these capabilities in addition to offering many automated multi-FPGA prototyping capabilities.

#2 Wasted time developing in-house FPGA Boards
The customer thought that as they can design multi-million ASIC gate SoC’s of course they can design a PCB with a couple of FPGA’s on it. Sadly this choice delayed the start of the prototyping project as developing a PCB like this and managing clocking, configuration and debug is not as easy as it seems. The customer spun the PCB twice before getting a platform which provided basic function. After all this the platform stilled lacked specific debug capabilities which limited the customers productivity. The customer will not make this mistake again and is looking to deploy a commercially available FPGA-based prototyping system such as HAPS for their next project.

#3 Tried to bring up the whole SoC prototype at once
Classic mistake. The funny thing is that within simulation the customer brings up individual design blocks and only when each has past it’s hello world and basic functionality tests does it get integrated into a larger SoC verification environment. This is exactly the same as what you should be doing for FPGA-based prototyping. Bring up individual blocks and only when they are operational do you instantiate them into the SoC level. This way you are not debugging multiple issues at once that everybody knows is a very time consuming process.

The customer made other mistakes but the above ones were the worst offenders. In general the customer lacked FPGA expertise and could have really benefited from expert assistance. This is exactly where Synopsys can help, we offer expert services, expert support and expert local application experts.

The one thing that this customer stated that I 100% agree with was that it will be easier the 2nd time around. Exactly, they have built up internal expertise and plan on utilizing available products to improve the flow and the designers productivity. What the customer wishes they had done was to involve Synopsys from the start and utilized our services team to provide FPGA-based prototyping assistance at the start of the project. This would have jump started their effort. By using the Synopsys prototyping software and HAPS system the customer would not have wasted valuable time in creating a flow and designing and debugging hardware. The bonus to using the Synopsys tools and hardware is that the customer could have leveraged the extensive support infrastructure of Synopsys FPGA R&D and CAE experts as well as the globally located Application Consultant experts. Synopsys, the home of the Prototyping Super hero’s :)

Don’t make the same mistake as this customer!

Did your company have a similar experience, let me know about it.

Below is my favorite spam message of the week. Spammers, work out what the blog is talking about before bothering to spam it. Hot tubs, come on, that has nothing to do with FPGA-based prototypes. And nobody wants a “used” hot tub, that’s just gross….

Posted in ASIC Verification, Debug, FPGA-Based Prototyping, FPMM Methods, Getting Started, In-System Software Validation, Project management, Technical, Tips and Traps | Comments Off

The Value of Support and the Demise of USB

Posted by Michael Posner on 16th August 2013

Including USB in this week’s blog title was designed to be catchy and an effort to grab a couple of Eric Huang’s USB Blog’s bazillion readers. It’s not really the demise of USB but more of the demise of a single USB stick. I tend to destroy pens and papers by playing with them while I work, this week I found myself destroying a perfectly good USB stick.

Sorry Eric, I am sure you are crying into your soy latte after seeing what I did to this poor defenseless USB stick.

When evaluating an FPGA-based prototyping solution or even when an in house built board is being considered the one thing I see missed all the time is support! It’s hard to place a value on support as until you need it you don’t know how much it’s worth. Over the years I see “lack of support” come up as the main reason why a project slipped. When these companies go back and look at their original evaluation criteria it suddenly becomes obvious that they didn’t consider support whoops.

Support should be one of the main evaluation criteria as only a fool would think that a project will go smoothly. It’s one of the simple rules of life, like death and taxes, something at some point will go wrong. When something does go wrong you and the project is not going to be judged based on that problem (because everyone knows problems are going to come up) you are judged on how successfully you solved it. This is why support is so important as it’s the key to successful and speedy resolution to a problem regardless of its source.

If you are considering building an on house board you must consider the post build support. This includes not only the hardware side of the support but the software tool flow support which will be needed to target the board. The cost of an in house built board seems so attractive until you fail to get it to work and the whole idea of doing early software development goes out the window. Same goes for the cheap alternatives on the market today. Who do you turn to if you have a problem? These smaller providers sometimes offer support, some send you the schematic of their boards so you can fix it yourself, some have a dedicated person (1). But does a schematic really solve your problem and what if that support person is helping someone else or is on vacation and cannot support you. Fast resolution to your problem could be the difference between a project success and a project failure. Synopsys has over 250 people backing our FPGA-based prototyping products meaning not only can you rely on our technical expertise to solve your problem but also local time zone support.

What value to you put on support? Post me a comment and let me know how you rate the value of support.

Off subject my neighbor cut down a hardwood tree last week as the trunk had split and it was looking to fall over onto the house. I asked him to leave a couple of longer trunks so that I could make both of us some rustic looking benches. I must admit they turned out very well, the picture shows one finished and the other in process.

All cuts made with a 16” gas (petrol) powered chainsaw. (Chansaws make a huge mess by the way) I then planed off the tops with an electric planer. The benches weigh a lot but are amazingly comfortable.

Posted in FPGA-Based Prototyping, Getting Started, Project management, Tips and Traps | Comments Off

Hybrid for RTL Block Validation and Infomercials

Posted by Michael Posner on 9th August 2013

In my final installment on RTL Block Validation we are going to talk about the Hybrid Prototyping usage case.

The Hybrid use case is rapidly emerging as the differentiated way to validate RTL as it enables the block to be validated in the context of a lager system without the need for RTL of the system.

This usage case is the evolution of the PCIe connected use mode. The PCIe connected use mode forces the software developer to create software that is specific to the host machines OS, Windows OS for example which is common when the PCIe is plugged into a Windows based PC. The problem is that the final RTL block is usually integrated into an embedded CPU based system which utilizes one of the embedded cores such as ARM, ARC, MIPS and so on. The software created using the Hybrid prototyping use mode can be made to match the expected final target processor and OS.

The value of the Hybrid use mode is that the RTL block can be validated and stressed in the context of a realistic representation of the final system it’s going to be deployed in. You can do this without the need to have RTL for a real system, cool huh.

Synopsys’ Virtualizer (http://www.synopsys.com/Systems/VirtualPrototyping/Pages/Virtualizer.aspx) has a large library of processor models and even a set of pre-made, ready to go reference systems called Virtual Design Kits, VDK’s(http://www.synopsys.com/Systems/VirtualPrototyping/Virtualizer-Development/Pages/default.aspx). You can use these directly or to jump start your own VDK development which is great so you don’t have to be a SystemC expert. The link between the Virtual and FPGA is made via a physical connection and transactors which convert the high level SystemC Transaction Level Modeling (TLM) commands to physical pin toggling over in the FPGA.

The transactors are really the smarts behind Hybrid Prototyping. Both Virtual and FPGA-based prototyping technologies are established and accepted prototyping technologies. Bringing these two technologies together enables the pre-RTL value of the virtual prototype to be linked to the real-RTL values of FPGA-based prototyping.

Synopsys provides a solution for Hybrid prototyping providing a seamless solution from one provider making it easy to adopt the Hybrid prototyping use case. Here is a nice video introducing Hybrid: http://www.synopsys.com/Systems/FPGABasedPrototyping/Pages/hybrid-prototyping.aspx

 Wow, I’m starting to sound like an Infomercial. I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t joined Synopsys that I would have ended up doing late night TV commercials. I love how “if you call within the next 10 minutes” that you always seem to get double the order for the exact same price (+S&H). Is that really a deal or are you just paying too much in the first place. I met Billy Mays (RIP), a popular star of the American infomercials, once and questioned him on if anyone buys the trash that is featured in these commercials. He said that the items they chose to develop and promote have worldwide appeal making the TAM every household in the world. That’s a huge TAM. While “YOU” might not need an item, someone, somewhere does and when your TAM is every household in the world you end up selling this “trash” in large volumes. Here is a tribute to Billy Mays: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gb9vOp7wCqQ

Let me know if you have ever purchased anything based on an infomercial, especially if you bought two for the price of one because you called within the 10 minutes.

Posted in ASIC Verification, FPGA-Based Prototyping, Getting Started, Humor, Technical, Tips and Traps | Comments Off