FPGA-based prototyping platforms such as the Synopsys HAPS (High-Performance ASIC Prototyping System) solution are aimed at enabling the fastest path to a functioning prototype. They are driven by a suite of integrated tools that provide developers with interactive SoC-level analysis and debug capabilities, as well as insight into the various IP and other elements of a complex SoC, including real world I/O and custom subsystems. They also interface to other necessary tools in the design and development process, including test environments.
Also, as mentioned, FPGA-based prototyping is especially valuable in the software development process, which is increasingly the most time-consuming and complex aspect of SoC design. By using optimized FPGA prototypes, developers have the performance they need to bring up and verify their operating systems far in advance of having access to the actual targeted hardware. Since a prototyping system such as Synopsys’ HAPS platform can achieve internal system frequencies in 100s of megahertz, developers can execute the low-level firmware of the software stack, as well as the full operating system and even applications.
Of course, verification performance is a key benefit of physical prototyping. Using high performance FPGA-based prototypes, developers can achieve speeds that are orders of magnitude faster than other types of verification, such as simulation or emulation. This performance can scale with the complexity of design thanks to the flexibility of prototyping solutions that allow design partitioning across multiple FPGAs to be utilized in order to handle the design size and deliver enhanced verification throughput. This also brings the added benefit of more time to perform exhaustive verification of large designs, or to allow additional ‘what if’ exploration of design options, even on specific portions of the design.
While full-chip verification is the primary objective, physical prototyping supports other use cases, including proof-of-concept research, test pattern generation for DUTs, IP development and even end-user evaluation – all before final working silicon is available. The portability of a modern prototyping solutions means they can be quickly assembled in the field for customer demonstrations, industry conferences, “plug-fests” and validation scenarios outside of the lab environment.