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Why the Demand for Acceleration and Emulation is Growing

Comments(2)Filed under: System Design and Verification, Acceleration, Emulation, Hardware/software co-verification, Low power verification and analysis, OVM, verification, Palladium, virtual platform, ASIC, virtual prototype, System Design & Verification, emulator, simulation

The dream of any marketer is a growing demand for its product line. Let me start this blog by quoting the System Realization (part of the Cadence EDA360 strategy) section from the transcript of the recent (Q4) Cadence earnings call.

"In April (2010), we introduced the Verification Computing Platform, enabling emulation, acceleration, and simulation all on one single platform. Customers who are designing SoCs at 40nm and below find this product necessary to meet the time-to-market and quality targets. Demand for this product was exceptionally high in the fourth quarter, the result of the expanded orders from existing customers and new customers who used the platform to bring out some of this year's most extraordinary products."

Anytime the economy is recovering from a recession, we see the demand for semiconductor devices growing, and with it this increased demand for acceleration and emulation. Last year, we have seen an even sharper increase in the demand for these products at Cadence. Why?

Let's talk about some of the market trends:

1.       Most of the new SoC devices are embedded. With the smart phone (both iPhone and Android-based phones) and ARM-based design "Tsunami," the potential revenue (produced by the semiconductor and the system companies) in terms of both upside and risk is larger than ever. Overall, there is a reason why the market capitalization of Google and Apple combined is above $520B, and ARM market capitalization just hit today $14B.

2.       Any new embedded device has more software than hardware and for the HW-dependent software layers, you can't start software development until you have matured hardware. HW/SW and embedded system integration is becoming the critical path in any system development.

3.       The hardware portion of new embedded devices is more complex and mostly includes multiple cores.

  •  In a recent discussion with one of our customers, he said: "In the past, during the debug process, I could point into the specific line of software code which was the root cause of the hardware failure. Today, when I have 12 cores in the design with multiple operating systems, it is very difficult to find the root cause for a particular failure manually. I need to rely on tools for automation and even if I have it, it is a complex task".   
  • Simulation used to be the key tool for block and SoC verification. In the new world, where you have many external interfaces to your device, a lot of SW and a huge complexity in integration, your simulation performance can't keep up with the requirements. Unlike in the past, hardware-assisted verification is a must have.

4.       The growing business demand (which in many cases is pushed by us -- the end customer) creates huge pressure to hit the shipment window on time.

Therefore, the demand for HW/SW development platforms and high-performance simulation acceleration platforms for verification acceleration is growing.

So why is it that the demand for other platforms (such as FPGA-based prototyping and/or virtual prototyping) is not growing at the same rate? I believe that overall, the demand for all HW/SW platforms and SoC/system integration tools is growing. However, acceleration and emulation still has unique value propositions:

1.      A larger percentage of designs are crossing the 64 million gate range. Emulation is still the most convenient way and maybe the only way to port and validate such large designs (hardware and software) at a cycle accurate level. Yes, it is true, if you mostly need to test the SW independent layers and you do not particularly care about cycle accuracy, there are other methods to do it. However, with the hardware dependent layers, corner cases at the RTL/gate level are the ones that eventually can delay your system delivery.

2.       With the ease-of-use improvement and the large number of available SpeedBridge adapters, emulation bring-up is a task that can take now days for most designs. Therefore if you have the majority of your design defined in RTL, this is the fastest way to get to system validation.

3.       The new methodologies (OVM and UVM) are very efficient; however, they are running out of steam as you get to the SoC and system level. SoC verification is not scaling any more if you just use simulation. In parallel, the new standard methodologies (combination of UVM acceleration and SCE-MI) made it much easier to port designs in simulation and run them in acceleration. Moving forward, HVL-based simulation acceleration could have a huge opportunity to grow.

4.       Within the last 20 years, a lot of emphasis  in emulation was put on debug, to the point that today in many cases the debug in emulation is as simple (or maybe more efficient) for large designs than in simulation.

Add on top of the above a new platform from Cadence (Palladium XP, Verification Computing Platform) supporting performance speed that has not seen in the emulation business for a long time, hot-swap to and from the Incisive Enterprise Simulator, scalable capacity, very fast turnaround time as a result of fast compile time, and low power verification and analysis capabilities -- and this demand for acceleration and emulation will not surprise you any more.

Ran Avinun


By Rahul Jain on February 21, 2011
With FPGA prototyping systems taking 10-20 million gate designs and very good debug options available like TotalHistory, Protolink, Inpa etc, will it not be sunset for the million dollar emulator systems ?

By Ran Avinun on February 27, 2011
FPGA prototyping systems are very important and are complementary to emulation systems. They are being used mostly when the design is matured and the numbers of iterations is small. The main use model for FPGA prototyping is software development and exhaustive regressions with focus on emulation replicates running at high performance. Emulation is being used earlier in the design phase mostly for system validation with focus on HW and SW debug and advanced verification acceleration as an expansion to RTL and TLM (SW-based) simulation. With all the debug options available, FPGA prototyping systems are still limited in their debug capability, bring-up time and turnaround time compared to emulation. As I mentioned, in 2010, we have seen a growing demand for emulation. The same companies that demanded higher emulation capacity are also using FPGA prototyping and fully aware to the benefits and drawbacks of these systems. Still, they chose to increase their emulation footprint. In the forceable future, I can see both emulation and FPGA prototyping systems demand and capacity growing.

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