It seems as if all of the major EDA vendors have now come to the realization that RTL simulation is just not a total solution anymore. Gone are the days when it was the one tool that would be used for all aspects verification from implementation through integration to system-level tests. For a while the growing problems associated with simulation were covered up by the race to add constrained random generation capabilities, and then by the side show of SystemVerilog. SystemC was seen by some of the vendors as a no-value add-on that they really had no interest in promoting because it lowered the value of the simulator because they were competing with free. But now, all three of the majors are adding different techniques to capture more of the verification problem throughout the flow, although perhaps in different ways.
Synopsys has placed significant effort into FPGA-based prototyping with a couple of acquisitions (Hardi, ProDesign) a few years back, plus the software flow to drive it through the acquisition of Synplicity. Then there was a raft of acquisitions that propelled it into the ESL space (CoWare, VAST, Virtio) and since then, Synopsys has been integrating these together along with its IP offerings into a more modern flow.
We have heard from Cadence, with their announcement at ESC and on the one year anniversary of EDA360, exactly how Cadence intends to respond in this area. They have formally announced their introduction of a virtual prototyping solution and an FPGA-prototype. In their case they are using a lot of the technology from their emulation business to drive the FPGA-prototype and their unique pitch is that once the design has been readied for emulation, then it is also ready for prototyping. I spoke to cadence about this a few days ago and Ran Avinun, director of marketing for the System Design and Verification segment. He said that if each technology adds enough value then having solutions that are fractured is fine, but the fracturing today is so large that it has a huge impact and results in technologies not being adopted. This integration between emulation and prototyping goes further than just the software chain in that both solutions will share things such as speed-bridges and analysis software. The FPGA-prototype has been in production since December but in the releases so far there is not much technical detail about the capacity, performance or extensibility of the solution. I am sure more will become known about this over time.
The other piece of the puzzle is the virtual prototype. This is an essential piece of the puzzle as it enables software to be designed, developed, integrated and verified before the hardware design has been completed, or at least stabilized. RTL simulation, emulation and prototyping all attack the problem after the design has been completed, or getting close to it. This part of the Cadence solution is still in the early adopter phase and a full release is expected later this year.
So where is Mentor? Their press release today talked about the integration of simulation with formal technologies and with intelligent testbench technology. Neither of the other two EDA companies have been pursuing intelligent testbenches. Vista is Mentor’s virtual prototyping platform, but unlike the other companies, their prototype is geared towards the hardware architecture rather than being a platform for software. They also have a whole division working on the embedded software part of the flow. I have heard nothing about them working on a prototyping solution, but maybe they have something up their sleeves. Several years ago I was asked who was the furthest along in putting together an ESL solution. My answer at that time was: Mentor has more pieces of the puzzle than anyone else, but the least likely to integrate them into a comprehensive flow. That is looking truer today than ever before or maybe Mentor just sees the future differently.
So, it is clear that all three of the major companies acknowledge that the software portion of the system is not only becoming more important, but that it present a significant revenue opportunity for them. Each has put in place a different strategy as to how to capitalize on it and I am sure this is just the beginning of their efforts into this area.
Brian Bailey – keeping you covered.