In today's growing consumer electronics market, time to market is critical. Consumer device manufacturers scramble to finish their products on time for the big shopping seasons, but sometimes cannot meet their schedules. To some companies, this can be deadly. To others, it can mean a missed market window and much smaller, if any, profits.
Since the complexity and functionality of today's consumer devices is increasing, so is the development effort for both hardware and software. If the software development has to wait until the hardware is designed, the market window could fly by. So software developers have to develop their software without having the hardware available for debugging or testing. The problem is even bigger since, in order to reduce product envelope and cost, manufacturers increasingly rely on custom, highly integrated system-on-a-chip ASICs. The traditional method - building hardware prototypes - is thus either considerably more expensive, time-consuming and risky or, alternatively, completely unrepresentative of the final hardware.
One way to help make sure that the software team has the information required to start development is to create a "virtual prototype system" that can be used as a development platform while the real hardware is still being designed and debugged. Current hardware-software co-verification tools 1 create a virtual prototype that brings the software integration task incrementally forward by allowing software to run on a model of the processor, co-simulating with the register transfer level hardware design, represented in VHDL or Verilog running on a HDL simulator, rather than a hardware prototype. Such methodologies can shave weeks from the design cycle, but fail to make the quantum design cycle improvement that consumer device manufacturers seek for two reasons. Firstly, the software team does not obtain the detailed knowledge about the hardware that is necessary for development to commence and secondly, most of the hardware implementation process is still in the critical path for executing the software on a representative target system. Clearly, virtual prototypes are necessary much earlier in the design cycle. This paper describes the development of such a "virtual prototype system" for a PDA (personal digital assistant) using CoWare N2C.
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