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Issue 1, 2011
Introducing the FPGA-Based Prototyping Methodology Manual (FPMM)

Doug Amos, Synopsys, introduces Synopsys’ latest book, the FPGA-Based Prototyping Methodology Manual (FPMM).

FPMM Book Recently, Synopsys and Xilinx announced the availability of the FPGA-Based Prototyping Methodology Manual (FPMM), a practical guide to using FPGAs as a platform for system-on-chip (SoC) development. The FPMM draws on knowledge from both companies, as well as valuable design and verification contributions by engineers from worldwide prototyping teams including Freescale Semiconductor, LSI, NVIDIA, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and many others, each of whom has successfully deployed FPGA-based prototyping to accelerate complex ASIC and SoC development projects. The FPMM offers best-practice advice for prototypers and introduces the concept of Design-for-Prototyping.

  1. SoCs can be larger than FPGAs
  2. SoCs can be faster than FPGAs
  3. SoC designs can be FPGA-hostile

Okay, they are not really "laws", but rather, they describe the root causes of the challenges that face us when prototyping. However, despite these challenges, the majority of SoC design teams, including those listed above, have benefited from FPGA-based prototyping over many projects. How have they been successful while living within the constraints of these three laws?

The answer is that they have each done it in their own way. Of course, many may use the same tools or the same FPGA devices and boards, but in a real sense, each team has invented its own way to perform prototyping. However, they each have the same requirements for cycle-accuracy and high-performance that are the unique hallmarks of an FPGA-based prototype.

Synopsys and Xilinx have worked with these teams and many others on hundreds of prototyping projects for more than a decade. The FPMM is the first reference book to collect the major techniques into one place to deliver a proven FPGA-based prototyping methodology.

Who’s the FPMM for?
The FPMM offers something for experienced practitioners, as well as those completely new to FPGA-based prototyping. Those who are new to the subject will appreciate being taken through the process one step at a time, in a logical fashion. By making each chapter relatively self-contained, we also enable experienced prototypers to dip easily into the most relevant parts of the book to gain extra insight as required.

As well as providing detailed information for hands-on prototypers, we have written some sections with project managers in mind. Typically, these chapters explore "what can be done" rather than "how to do it".

Best practices change – will the FPMM?
The advice and case studies we have provided are useful, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. There is much more experience to be shared out there in the labs of the world, and so we have also provided a forum where prototyping ideas can be exchanged and discussed. The online community that we are enabling around the FPMM allows anyone with an interest in FPGA-based prototyping to contribute to the ever evolving discussion around FPGA prototyping methodology.

As outlined in her foreword to the FPMM, Helena Krupnova of STMicroelectronics says, "this book, and its companion web-based forum, will attract managers’ attention to the importance of prototyping, and I expect it will be a great support to the prototyping community!"

What does the FPMM contain?
We kick off the FPMM by analyzing the complexity of SoC validation, including the rapidly escalating problem of validating embedded software. We introduce a number of different prototyping methods – not just FPGA. We then go on to describe the benefits of FPGA-based prototyping in general terms and give some real-life examples of successful prototyping projects.

Some readers will find it useful to read our primer on FPGA technology and the tools involved, which gives a new prototyper’s perspective on both. Experienced FPGA users may feel that they can skip this chapter, but it is still recommended as a way to look at FPGA technology from a new viewpoint.

Every journey begins with a single step. After having whetted the reader’s appetite for FPGA-based prototyping, chapter 4 brings together sufficient information to get us started, allowing us to gauge the effort, tools and time needed to create a prototype.

The hardware platform used in the prototype should be chosen early in the project. The next chapters give guidance on how to best create a platform in house, or how to choose between the many commercial platforms, and how to make an informed comparison between them.

We next provide key information on manipulating a design to make it ready for implementation in FPGA hardware, with special focus on HDL changes, partitioning and IP handling. We also give some guidance on how design teams can adopt a Design-for-Prototyping SoC design style to make designs more suitable for an FPGA-based prototyping team.

The board is ready... the design is ready... what happens when the two are put together? The next chapters cover how to bring up the prototype in the lab and then go on to debug the HDL and software on the working prototype. There is also a discussion of the deployment of the prototype outside the lab.

We have a working FPGA-based prototype; what else can be done with such a useful platform? We look at the benefits of tailoring our prototype to work with wider verification environments, including RTL simulators and SystemC-based virtual models.

We consider the future of FPGA-based prototyping, and beyond, into what we call System Prototyping. We take some of the concepts from earlier sections and draw some new conclusions. Finally, we summarize the lessons learned throughout the manual, which establishes FPGA-based prototyping as a full-featured verification methodology.

In an appendix, Texas Instruments provides an instructive worked example of a recent FPGA-based prototype project, in which they give details of the various steps taken and challenges overcome. In the final appendix, we set out an economic and business comparison between designing and fabricating prototype hardware from scratch and buying it from a commercial provider.

Where can I get the FPMM and join in?
The FPMM is available now from amazon.com as hardcopy, but there are also free electronic versions available (pdf or eBook) through the FPMM website at www.synopsys.com/fpmm or on links from the Xilinx website. More importantly, on the FPMM website you will also find a blog, an interactive forum and other information regarding FPMM related material. We are also planning seminars and workshops where prototypers can interact and learn the latest prototyping techniques.


About the authors

Doug Amos, Synopsys
Doug gained an honors degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Bath, England in 1980. He did his first programmable logic design in the mid-80s, when FPGAs were still called Logic Cell Arrays. Since then, Doug has designed or supported countless FPGA and ASIC designs either as an independent consultant or working with the leading vendors. Doug became Synplicity’s first engineer and Technical Director in Europe (Synplicity was acquired by Synopsys in 2008) and has presented widely on FPGA design and FPGA-based prototyping since that time.

Austin Lesea, Xilinx
Austin graduated from UC Berkeley in 1974 with his BS EECS in Electromagnetic (E&M) Theory and in 1975 added an MS EECS in Communications and Information Theory.

He has worked in the telecommunications field for 20 years designing optical, microwave, and copper-based transmission system and developing SONET/SDH GPS-based Timing Systems. For the last ten years at Xilinx, Austin was in the IC Design department for the Virtex product line and for the last two years, he has been working for Xilinx Research Labs, where he is looking beyond the present technology issues.

René Richter, Synopsys
René holds an MSEE degree, the Dipl.-Ing. der Elektrotechnik, from the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany in 1999.

He has worked 11 years in the area of FPGA-based Prototyping, first at ISYTEC, then Pro Design and now at Synopsys; each transition as a result of an acquisition. René managed the development of the CHIPit hardware platforms before moving on to become Director of Applications. During this time, he developed co-simulation interfaces and prototyping hardware and has implemented many ASIC designs in FPGA. René has also developed prototyping concepts and solutions for customers, and he is one of the inventors of the UMRBus and HAPS-600 technology.


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