Posted by Michael Posner on October 30, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
That’s some crazy eyes I’ve got going on…………….