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Michel Courtoy, Board Member, Breker Verification Systems
Michel Courtoy, Board Member, Breker Verification Systems
Michael Courtoy is a member of the board of directors for Breker Verification Systems. He began his career at Intel in design engineering and software engineering. He managed product marketing for layout verification software at Cadence Design Systems. As vice president of marketing for Silicon … More »

Emulation and Software-Driven SoC Verification: Two Peas in a Pod

November 4th, 2013 by Michel Courtoy, Board Member, Breker Verification Systems

Emulation got its start in the late 1980s. As an early employee of the pioneering company in emulation, Quickturn Design Systems, I remember the enthusiasm created by the promises of the technology and the challenges that came with its delivery. It is not an exaggeration to state that many of the early adopters failed to get a decent ROI on their emulation investment because of finicky software or unreliable hardware.

However, emulation has come a long way in terms of performance, ease-of-use, reliability, and pricing. This maturity enables SoC design teams all over the world to make emulation a key component of their verification arsenal. The three major suppliers of emulation are enjoying steady growth and almost unstoppable momentum due to the increasing complexity of SoCs.

The key value of emulation has always been predicated on its ability to run software on the device under test (DUT).  A well-publicized success story that raised the visibility of emulation in its early stages was the revelation that Intel used Quickturn’s systems for the verification of the Pentium processor by booting a PC operating system.  This goal is still driving most verification teams today, most often by booting a variant of Linux/Android on the new chip.

Recently, Breker Verification Systems announced TrekSoC-Si, the extension of its SoC verification solution, TrekSoC, to support in-circuit emulation (ICE) platforms, FPGA prototypes and production silicon.  As a quick reminder, the Breker TrekSoC product generates multi-threaded, multi-processor, self­-verifying C test cases that run on heterogeneous embedded processors within a SoC; this enables testing of complex system-level interactions at the SoC level. This type of solution is sometimes referred to as software-driven verification.

One of the key benefits of the combined TrekSoC and TrekSoC-Si solution is horizontal reuse, meaning that the same C test cases are portable across the simulation, emulation, prototyping and post-silicon validation platforms.

This gets me to the link between the two parts of my story, the historical adoption trends of emulation and the emergence of SoC verification plus its extension to emulation. Emulation became prevalent by increasing its ROI to verification teams. The introduction of horizontal reuse for SoC test cases across platforms through software-driven SoC verification solutions is another value-add to emulation technology.

Specifically, the C test cases, generated by the SoC verification system and running on the embedded processors, bridge the complexity gap between simulation vectors and the operating system.  The C test cases are analogous to simulation vectors because they can be simulated, get built up from the IP level, and are randomized to stress functionality.

On the other hand, they are akin to the operating software because they represent real scenarios and run on the embedded processors.  On the complexity scale, the C test cases generated by TrekSoC fit in-between the simulation test bench and the system software.

An important benefit of these C test cases is that debug is much easier than when booting an OS.  Typically, an SoC verification engineer will not have in-depth knowledge of the O/S to efficiently debug a problem encountered when booting on the new hardware.

In conclusion, SoC verification or software-driven verification tools provide a new set of tests to run on emulators. These tests bridge a gap between the simulation vectors and booting the O/S, increasing the value of emulation as a key hardware/software verification tool. I predict SoC verification will play a role in the continuing momentum of emulation.

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