Colin Walls has over thirty years experience in the electronics industry, largely dedicated to embedded software. A frequent presenter at conferences and seminars and author of numerous technical articles and two books on embedded software, Colin is an embedded software technologist with Mentor … More »
Simulation – better than the real thing?
January 16th, 2014 by Colin Walls
At Mentor Graphics I have to be careful what I say – I am treading on thin ice. The problem is that I am a software engineer. A very large proportion of my colleagues in the company have a hardware design background. Now I would not say that the two disciplines are at war, but there has always been a tension between hardware and software developers. In an embedded design, if something goes wrong, both parties tend to assume that the other is at fault. Worse still, if a hardware design flaw is located late in the development process, it may be too late to fix it economically, so the only option is to accommodate the problem in software. And gosh, does that rankle.
So, I tend to regard hardware as a necessary evil that allows me to run my software. It is probably no surprise, therefore, to learn that a favorite technology of mine is simulation …
The first issue is what does the term “simulation” mean? If a customer asks me whether we have a simulation solution, I always quiz them to ascertain exactly what they are looking for. Broadly, a simulator for embedded software development is some kind of environment which enables software to be run without having the final hardware available. This can be approached in a number of ways:
These technologies are not competitive with one another. Each one offers a combination of precision and speed, which may be appropriate at different times in the design cycle. This can be visualized if I plot them on a graph.
You can change the rules and deviate from this nice relationship by “cheating” – i.e. using hardware acceleration, which is special electronics designed to “turbo-charge” the logic simulation [like Mentor’s Veloce range]. But that is no longer simulation – that is emulation, which is another story.
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