We hear a lot about FPGA-based prototyping hardware: Aldec, Dini Group, PRO DESIGN, Synopsys, and others. So, why is today's news on a new platform from S2C important? It's a matter of intent, beyond the act of gluing a few large FPGAs on a board for customers to dump more and more prospective RTL into.
Size differences aside, each vendor has an emphasis. At the risk of oversimplification...
Aldec is concentrating on speed of the basic implementation, and incorporating actual target hardware on FMC daughtercards, handy in situations requiring DO-254 compliance. Dini focuses on application platforms, such as FPGA-based algorithm acceleration for financial trading. PRO DESIGN is developing a modular approach to mix and match both FPGA architecture and I/O capability. Synopsys is leveraging their FPGA synthesis knowledge to create better partitioning and smoother upward integration for IP blocks into complete systems.
Unsurprisingly, in this field of worthy contenders, S2C has chosen their own emphasis in launching the Prodigy Complete Prototyping Platform. S2C isn’t a new company, they have been at FPGA-based hardware since 2004 and have deep connections, particularly in China – Daniel Nenni has an article coming shortly with a look at the history of the firm.
In their opening of their press release, they make a rather sweeping statement: “any functional design stage, with any design size, and across multiple geographical locations.” When looking at more specifics, their strategy: at least what they've announced so far looks like an amalgam of the competition with some unique additions, and a hint at what's coming.
Where most of the vendors are concentrating on the biggest Xilinx FPGA they can find (PRO DESIGN the exception), S2C has a selection of Xilinx Virtex-7, Kintex-7, Virtex-6, and Altera Stratix IV "logic modules", the hardware side of the solution. A Xilinx UltraScale product is coming soon.
To facilitate partitioning a design across multiple FPGAs, S2C has Prodigy Player Pro 5.1, a hardware-aware partitioning tool that also provides remote monitoring and control. One of the biggest performance boosters in partitioning is where and how to insert LVDS pin multiplexing, handled with either automatic or guided modes in the partition engine. In addition to clock and reset control, self-test, and remote management capability, the software also has virtual switches and LEDs for simple I/O functions usually found only on the physical board.
From there, Prodigy ProtoBridge takes over. It links system-level simulation to the FPGA-based prototyping platform using an AXI-4 and other protocols over a 4-lane PCIe Gen2 interface. It supports up to 16 master and 16 slave instances, with configurable data width from 32-bit to 1024-bit, and transmission length limited only by the host hard disk space. A C-based API allows simulators to connect and run verification routines, such as high-performance regression tests.
There is also a selection of Prodigy Prototype Ready IP, with interfaces such as USB, HDMI, MIPI, a range of memory, a Xilinx Zynq module, and many others. S2C is offering design services to create specific modules per customer requirements.
If it ended there, S2C would have a comprehensive solution. What about the "multiple geographical locations? " S2C is readying a breakthrough approach linking these platforms across a network, exposed and managed in a private cloud, targeting designs of a billion gates and perhaps more. In conjunction, deep trace debugging across multiple FPGAs is also on the S2C roadmap.
Executed properly, a private, secure cloud solution could enable interesting capabilities between third-party IP vendors, SoC designers in distributed teams, and foundry partners. So far, I haven’t heard of other FPGA-based prototyping vendors taking on the cloud in this kind of strategy. This will be intriguing to watch.