A senior executive of one of the big three EDA vendors was once quoted as saying: “An emulator you used four years ago, you can use as a bookend, but not much else. Or, you can throw it over the side of a boat and use it to grow coral.”
While we’ve chuckled over this comment for years, we think a better analogy comes from another part of the animal kingdom and it goes something like this: Traditional hardware emulators are a lot like the dinosaurs that roamed the earth for 160 million years. Both are now extinct, the latter wiped out at the end of the Mesozoic Era. The former, wiped out by hardware-assisted verification platforms designed and implemented with the largest commercial FPGAs that are as fast and sleek as a Gazelle.
Dinosaurs were dominant terrestrial vertebrates, a term that sounds slow, plodding and ponderous, not at all unlike the description of early hardware emulators.
At their introduction in the 1980s, emulators were considered revolutionary and a bold feat of engineering marvel. The high cost of ownership, however, limited adoption to big companies with large budgets and complex design problems. Further, a traditional emulator’s maximum speed was about one megahertz (MHz), slow even then. They were also criticized for being difficult to set up, wasting time and resources. A common refrain in those early days was the excessive time to emulation.
Dinosaurs are known to have laid eggs. Hmmm.
As we compare the latest generation of hardware emulation systems to the impressive gazelle, it’s easy to understand why they are changing designers’ perception of this market segment. They perform at significantly faster speeds, are notably dexterous in their design verification deployment, and drastically more cost effective.
Gazelles are reputed to be swift animals. In fact, some are able to maintain speeds as high as 50 miles per hour for extended periods of time. Today’s emulation systems are equally swift –– some clock in at 10 megahertz (MHz) on a 40-million gate design.
These new functional verification engines have a small footprint and are light weight, saving space, power and infrastructure costs, and execute at speeds of several megahertz even in transaction-based co-emulation. Their debugging capabilities are similar to those of the beloved HDL simulator. Even more attractive is their pricing –– they sell for a fraction of the cost of older generations of emulators. They can be used by the embedded software team and hardware designers for hardware/software co-verification, and increasingly are used as a solution to an event-based simulator’s runtime problems.
The gazelle is appreciated for being both nimble and graceful, and does not lay eggs.
Experts tell us we can learn much from the Animal Kingdom. We’ve learned enough to be able to compare and contrast the characteristics of chip verification tools to two venerated animals. As we’ve shown, traditional emulators have gone the way of the Dinosaur while today’s fast emulation systems are emulating the characteristics of a Gazelle.