Breaking The Three Laws


Scared of Multi-FPGA Prototyping, Don’t Be !!!

Random image of someone looking scared

Last week I spent a week in Japan visiting users to discuss their FPGA-based prototyping challenges and explain how Synopsys can help. My overall take-away of the visits was that many companies want to expand their current single FPGA-based prototyping to multi-FPGA but fear the challenges associated with this. The summary of what I explained was pretty simple but to the point. #1 Having a defined methodology, flow and tool set is key. #2 Yes Multi-FPGA is more complex but it’s not as steep of a learning curve as you may think. And that’s it…..

#1 Having a defined methodology, flow and tool set is key

In respect to methodology you of course can refer to the FPGA-based Prototyping Methodology Manual, FPMM. (English and Japanese versions, 英語版と日本語版) I used Google translate so I hope I didn’t just offend the whole of Japan. Read the FPMM and you will become an expert prototyper but we all know that in this age of technology a summary is always nice. This is why I blogged about 3 Phase Approach to Successful Prototyping a while back. Yes, this is the blog with the upside down pyramid which at the time I thought was a great way to show the progression down through a funnel. The three phases are “Make Design FPGA Ready”, this is all about making the ASIC RTL FPGA friendly. “Bring Up Functional Prototype”, this is where you want to get onto the hardware as quickly as possible so you can functionally validate the design. Finally “Optimize Prototyping Performance”, pretty self-explanatory really.

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

Along with a defined methodology you need to utilize a tool flow which is designed for prototyping. I was amazed in Japan that many companies still tried to use the FPGA vendor tools for prototyping. I have nothing against FPGA vendor tools, they are great for their job which is FPGA synthesis. When I asked about the challenges these customer faced it was the same story I have heard before, ASIC clock conversion, gated clocks, memories and for the few that did multi-FPGA the key challenge was clock/reset synchronization and pin multiplexing. If you want to go fast on the freeway you don’t buy a bicycle you buy a car, it’s the same with prototyping. If you want to prototype buy a tool set which is designed for the purpose. I blogged about ASIC Gated clock conversion a while back, Unlocking the Secrets of ASIC Clock Conversion, which is just one example of a tool set designed for prototyping. Search my blog and you will find a stack more examples of what is possible by the tools these days. You need a tool set which is more than just a FPGA synthesis tool, you need a tool set that understands your challenges and can help with automation and dedicated capabilities.

#2 Yes Multi-FPGA is more complex but it’s not as steep of a learning curve as you may think.

If you have never prototyped before I’m not going to tell you to start doing multi-FPGA prototyping straight away, too many variables to take on at once. Start small, create a single FPGA-based prototype of a subsystem of your design. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can get away with using the FPGA vendor tools (see above) use a dedicated FPGA-based prototyping tool. This is exactly why we provide ProtoCompiler DX as part of the HAPS-DX system. ProtoCompiler DX is everything you need to implement the prototype and more as it includes high visibility debug capabilities. Once you have a prototype up and running on a single FPGA, then it’s time to expand, but don’t bite off more than you can chew, again start small. My suggestion is that you do not add anything new to the design you already have operational. Simply select a block or two from the existing design and move them into a 2nd FPGA. Using your multi-FPGA prototype tool, such as ProtoCompiler, get familiar with partitioning and pin multiplex IP insertion. Get familiar with customizing the hardware to match the needs of your design. Abstract Partition Flow Advantage, this is an important step to ensure that you create the highest performance multi-FPGA prototype. Once you have the same design up and running on two FPGA’s and a design flow and expertise in place you are ready for greater things. Go off and be successful in multi-FPGA prototyping.

The weather was pretty nice in Japan, here is the view from the hotel I was staying at:

View from my hotel room

We had lots of nice meals out, can you guess what was served at this restaurant?

I wonder what you serve here?

We did a day trip to Shin-Osaka via the bullet train, Shinkansen, what a mean looking train

Bullet Train, the Shinkansen, pretty mean looking

Nice view of Mount Fuji on the way up

Mount Fuji as seen from train from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka

While the Japanese can build a train that goes 200 MPH they have the same problem as the rest of the world, horrible coffee. Luckily when we arrived the local team treated me to vending machine coffee

Yum, vending machine coffee...

Of course many may question my judgment for even trying train coffee and vending machine coffee. You have to remember I was jet lagged and this was better than no coffee….. but only marginally.

I met the star of the film, Big Hero6, Bay Max, well at least his inflatable body double

Mick meets Bay Max, the star of the film Big Hero6

The funny thing is that Bay Max the real character is also inflatable so what this really a body double or his clone?

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