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Virtual Platform for Xilinx Zynq – Why “Extensible” Matters

Comments(0)Filed under: FPGA, ARM, SystemC, TLM, virtual platforms, Xilinx, Industry Insights: ARM, EDA360, Imperas, OVP, ARM Techcon, Virtual System Platform, virtual prototypes, Cortex-A9, extensible, zynq, EPP, extensibility

You would expect a unique semiconductor product to have a unique software development environment. That is the case with the Xilinx Zynq-7000 family, an Extensible Processing Platform (EPP) that includes a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor and a 28nm FPGA fabric. Today (Oct. 26, 2011) at ARM TechCon, Xilinx and Cadence are demonstrating an extensible virtual platform for the Zynq-7000, enabling software development and debugging before silicon is available.

Xilinx and Cadence announced today that they have teamed up to develop this extensible virtual platform, with general availability planned for Q1 2012. Clearly "extensible" is a key word here. The Zynq platform is extensible because developers can not only program the Cortex-A9, but can build custom logic, including peripherals and specialized embedded processors, into the FPGA fabric. The virtual platform is extensible because developers can extend it with SystemC transaction-level models (TLMs) that represent that custom logic. This extensibility occurs purely in software with no need to purchase a custom FPGA board.

Ready for more "extensibility?" The agreement extends the reach of commercial virtual platforms, which have thus far focused on ASICs and SoCs, into the FPGA realm. For Cadence, it extends a traditional ASIC focus into FPGAs. For both Cadence and Xilinx, it extends a silicon orientation into embedded software development. And it extends the conventional, silicon-centric view of EDA to software development and hardware/software integration, a shift described last year in the EDA360 vision paper.

A Quick Look at Zynq

Zynq was announced in March 2011 as the industry's first Extensible Processing Platform, "developed to achieve the levels of processing and compute performance required in high-end embedded applications targeting markets such as video surveillance, automotive driver assistance, factory automation, and many others." It promises the flexibility and scalability of an FPGA combined with ASIC-like performance and the ease of an ASSP.

The dual ARM Cortex-A9 processor is enhanced with the NEON floating-point unit, and comes with hardened memory controllers and peripherals including USB, Gigabit Ethernet, SD-SDIO, UARTs, and A/D converters. The Xilinx Series 7 programmable logic fabric uses the Artix-7 or Kintex-7 technologies, and provides up to 235K logic cells. The maximum frequency of the Zynq-7000 is 800 MHz. A high throughput interface between the processing subsystem and the programmable logic includes over 3,000 interconnections.

A detailed product brief is located on the Xilinx web site. The Xilinx Zynq press release noted that engineering samples will be available in 1H 2012.

A Quick Look at Virtual Platforms

Virtual platforms, or virtual prototypes, make it possible to create and debug software using a model of system hardware before that hardware is actually built. Earlier this year Cadence announced the Virtual System Platform, which is part of the System Development Suite, which also includes simulation, RTL emulation, and rapid prototyping.

The Virtual System Platform differs from previous commercial offerings in several key aspects:

  • It uses SystemC TLM-2.0 models, not a proprietary language.
  • It helps automate TLM model creation with a utility that can generate a TLM-2.0 template from IP-XACT input.
  • It uses the Incisive simulation kernel, and can thus be easily linked into the Cadence Incisive RTL simulation environment, or to acceleration and emulation with the Palladium XP Verification Computing Platform.
  • Software and hardware engineers can use familiar debug environments, with full visibility and controllability.
  • Multi-core hardware/software debugging makes It possible to view and control software execution in multiple cores.

The Zynq virtual platform is based on the Virtual System Platform and includes the capabilities mentioned above.

A Key Industry Innovation

So what portions of the Zynq-7000 EPP will the virtual platform represent? "Everything," said Jason Andrews, senior architect at Cadence. Most of the models were created by Cadence. The Cortex-A9 model, however, was developed by Imperas using their Open Virtual Platforms Fast Processor Model technology, and is available from the OVP website, http://www.ovpworld.org/.  The base virtual platform is all TLM and "100 percent SystemC," as Andrews said. Users can extend the platform with their own TLM models, and users of the Incisive simulator can easily bring RTL models for legacy IP into the simulation.

Because the virtual platform is extensible, Zynq designers who use the FPGA fabric can develop SystemC TLM models and connect them to the base virtual platform. Even if a design team does not use the FPGA fabric, the virtual platform provides a way to develop software before the Zynq-7000 silicon is available - thus getting a potential jump on the competition.

Andrews noted that the Zynq virtual platform opens a high-volume potential for the emerging virtual prototype market, which has so far targeted mainly "tier one" OEMs. If the Zynq virtual platform can help bring virtual prototyping into the mainstream market, it will have a profound impact that will speed the development of integrated hardware/software systems, helping spur more innovation in the electronics industry.

You can learn more at http://www.cadence.com/zynq or see a demo at ARM TechCon Oct. 26-27 at Xilinx booth #207.

Richard Goering

 

 

 

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