Intel Technology Journal on Simics

Simics_ITJ_180-wideThe September 2013 issue of the Intel Technology Journal (which actually arrived in December) is all about Simics. Daniel Aarno of Intel and I served as the content architects for the issue, which meant that we managed to contributed articles from various sources, and wrote an introductory article about Simics and its usage in general. It has taken a while to get this journal issue out, and now that it is done it feels just great! I am very happy about the quality of all the ten contributed articles, and reading the final versions of them actually taught me some new things you could do with Simics! I already wrote about the issue in a Wind River blog post, so in this my personal blog I want to be a little bit more, well, personal.

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Some Fun Cache Results from Carbon

Carbon Design Systems have been on a veritable blogging spree recently, pushing out a large number of posts around various topics. Maybe a bit brief for my taste in most cases (I have a tendency to throw out 1000+ word pseudo-articles when I take the time to write a blog), but sometimes very interesting nevertheless. I particularly liked a few posts on cache analysis, as they presented some good insight into not-quite-expected processor and cache behaviors.

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Carbon “Swap ‘n’ Play” – A New Implementation of an Old Idea

Carbon Design Systems have been quite busy lately with a flurry of blog posts about various aspects of virtual prototype technology. Mostly good stuff, and I tend to agree with their push that a good approach is to mix fast timing-simplified models with RTL-derived cycle-accurate models. There are exceptions to this, in particular exploratoty architecture and design where AT-style models are needed. Recently, they posted about their new Swap ‘n’ Play technology, which is a old proven idea that has now been reimplemented using ARM fast simulators and Carbon-generated ARM processor models.

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Register Design Languages – DSL or not?

Recently, Gary Stringham has been running a series of interviews with providers of register design tools on his website. Register design tools seems to be an active area with several small companies (and some open-source tools) fighting for the market. I have written about Gary Stringham and register designs before, and it is an area that keeps fascinating me. There is something about the task of register design that keeps it separate from the main hardware design languages, tools, and flows.The different approaches taken by the tools supporting the register design task also illustrates some points about programming language standards, domain-specific languages, and exchange formats that I want to address.

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EETimes: James Aldis on Performance Modeling

James Aldis of TI has published an article in the EEtimes about how Texas Instruments uses SystemC in the modeling of their OMAP2 platform. SystemC is used for early architecture modeling and performance analysis, but not really for a virtual platform that can actually run software. The article offers a good insight into the virtual platform use of hardware designers, which is significantly different from the virtual platform use of software designers.
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Interrupts and Temporal Decoupling

I am just finishing off reading the chapters of the Processor and System-on-Chip Simulation book (where I was part of contributing a chapter), and just read through the chapter about the Tensilica instruction-set simulator (ISS) solutions written by Grant Martin, Nenad Nedeljkovic and David Heine. They have a slightly different architecture from most other ISS solutions, since that they have an inherently variable target in the configurable and extensible Tensilica cores. However, the more interesting part of the chapter was the discussion on system modeling beyond the core. In particular, how they deal with interrupts to the core in the context of a temporally decoupled simulation.

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Describe is not the same as Design

The discussion on my previous blog post about “the ideal ESL language” made me think some more about the purpose of a hardware modeling or description language. If you look closely, you realize that there are two quite different goals being pursued by the tools and languages discussed there.

On one hand, we have the task of supporting the design of new hardware bits, for the purpose of creating it. On the other hand, we have the task of describing a particular design for the purpose of simulating it. These two are not necessarily the same.

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Neat Register Design to Avoid Races

raceconditionIn his most recent Embedded Bridge Newsletter, Gary Stringham describes a solution to a common read-modify-write race-condition hazard on device registers accessed by multiple software units in parallel. Some of the solutions are really neat!

I have seen the “write 1 clears” solution before in real hardware, but I was not aware of the other two variants. The idea of having a “write mask” in one half of a 32-bit word is really clever.

However, this got me thinking about what the fundamental issue here really is.

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CoWare SystemC Checkpointing

gearsContinuing on my series of posts about checkpointing in virtual platforms (see previous posts Simics, Cadence, our FDL paper), I have finally found a decent description of how CoWare does things for SystemC. It is pretty much the same approach as that taken by Cadence, in that it uses full stores a complete process state to disk, and uses special callbacks to handle the connection to open files and similar local resources on a system. The approach is described in a paper called  “A Checkpoint/Restore Framework for SystemC-Based Virtual Platforms”, by Stefan Kraemer and Reiner Leupers of RWTH Aachen, and Dietmar Petras, and Thomas Philipp of CoWare, published at the International Symposium on System-on-Chip, in Tampere, Finland, in October of 2009.

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Checkpointing in SystemC @ FDL

fdllogosmallAlong with Marius Monton and Mark Burton of GreenSocs, I will be presenting a paper on checkpointing and SystemC at the FDL, Forum on Specification and Design Languages, in late September 2009.

The paper will explain how we did Simics-style checkpointing in SystemC, using the GreenSocs GreenConfig mechanisms to obtain an approximation for the Simics attribute system.

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Conquering Software with Software High-Level Synthesis

46daclogoThis post is a follow-up to the DAC panel discussion we had yesterday on how to conquer hardware-dependent software development. Most of the panel turned into a very useful dialogue on virtual platforms and how they are created, not really discussing how to actually use them for easing low-level software development. We did get to software eventually though, and had another good dialogue with the audience. Thanks to the tough DAC participants who held out to the end of the last panel of the last day!

As is often the case, after the panel has ended, I realized several good and important points that I never got around to making… and of those one struck me as worthy of a blog post in its own right.It is the issue of how high-level synthesis can help software design.

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46daclogoThe past few days here at DAC, a big theme has been transaction level modeling (TLM).

TLM is often considered to be SystemC TLM-2.0. Most of the statements from the EDA companies are to the effect that SystemC TLM-2.0 solves the problem of combining models from different sources. Scratching the surface of this happy picture, it is clear that it is not that simple…

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Cadence Industry Insight: “Virtual Platforms Unite HW and SW”

opinionAnother Cadence guest blog entry, about the overall impact of virtual platforms on the interaction between hardware and software designers. Essentially, virtual platforms are a great tool to make software and hardware people talk to each other more, since it provides a common basis for understanding.

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Guest Blog at Cadence: “Way Worse than the Real Thing”

avataraspxVirtutech and Cadence yesterday announced the integration of Virtutech Simics and Cadence ISX (Incisive Software Extensions), which is essentially a directed random test framework for software. With this tool integration, you can systematically test low-level software and the hardware-software (device driver) interface of a system, leveraging a virtual platform.

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I Want One… Trillion Instructions…

There is an eternal debate going on in virtual platform land over what the right kind of abstraction is for each job. Depending on background, people favor different levels. For those with a hardware background, more details tend to be the comfort zone, while for those with a software background like myself, we are quite comfortable with less details. I recently did some experiments about the use of quite low levels of hardware modeling details for early architecture exploration and system specification.

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Adding to Schirrmeister’s Virtual Platform Myth Busting

opinionFrank Schirrmeister of Synopsys recently published a blog post called “Busting Virtual Platform Myths – Part 1: “Virtual Platforms are for application software only”. In it, he is refuting a claim by Eve that virtual platforms are for application-level software-development only, basically claiming that they are mostly for driver and OS development and citing some Synopsys-Virtio Innovator examples of such uses. In his view, most appication-software is being developed using host-compiled techniques.  I want to add to this refutal by adding that application-software is surely a very important — and large — use case for virtual platforms.

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Eclipse Linux Kernel Indexing Works

Edited on 2009-Feb-01, to include the link to the illustrated guide that really helps you get there faster. Thanks Simon! Also, promoted to front page, original post was put up on 2008-Nov-09.

Thanks to Simon Kågströms post (and the even better second-generation with screenshots) about using Eclipse for the Linux kernel, I have a much nicer work environment now for my ongoing work in learning Linux device drivers on PowerPC, which has helped me work my way through several hard-to-figure-out system calls. Continue reading “Eclipse Linux Kernel Indexing Works”

EDA Tech Forum Article on Ecosystem Enablement

I have an article about ecosystem enablement for new hardware, co-authored with Richard Schnur of Freescale published in the December 2008 issue of EDA Tech Forum. The core concept is that a virtual platform solution makes it possible to get a new chip to market faster with better software support, and even enables virtual design-in of a chip at OEM customers before hardware becomes available. The article builds on our joint experience with the QorIQ P4080 launch in the Summer of 2008, where we had several operating systems and middleware packages in place at the moment the chip was announced. EDA Tech Forum requires registration, but it was still free, and there are many other good articles available.

Threading or Not as a Hardware Modeling Paradigm

gears-modelingTraditional hardware design languages like Verilog were designed to model naturally concurrent behavior, and they naturally leaned on a concept of threads to express this. This idea of independent threads was brought over into the design of SystemC, where it was manifested as cooperative multitasking using a user-level threading package. While threads might at first glance look “natural” as a modeling paradigm for hardware simulations, it is really not a good choice for high-performance simulation.

In practice, threading as a paradigm for software models of hardware circuits connected to a programmable processor brings more problems than it provides benefits in terms of “natural” modeling.

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Notes from the IP 08 Panel

Now I am home again, and some days have passed since the IP 08 panel discussion about software and hardware virtual platforms. This was an EDA hardware-oriented conference, and thus the audience was quite interested in how to tie things to hardware design. Any case, it was a fun panel, and Pierre Bricaud did a good job of moderating and keeping things interesting.

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Gary Stringham on Hardware Interface Design vs Virtual Platforms

I just read an interesting paper from the 2004 Embedded System’s Conference (ESC) written by Gary Stringham. It is called “ASIC Design Practices from a Firmware Perspective” and straddles the boundary between hardware design and driver software development. It was good to see someone take the viewpoint of “how you actually program a hardware device is as important as what it does”. Gary seems to understand both the hardware design and implementation view of things, as well as that of the embedded software engineer. To me, that seems to be a fairly rare combination of skills, to the detriment of our entire economy of computer system development.

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Cadence-Ran vs Synopsys-Frank over Low-Power and Virtual Things

Over the past few weeks there was a interesting exchange of blog posts, opinions, and ideas between Frank Schirrmeister of Synopsys and Ran Avinun of Cadence. It is about virtual platforms vs hardware emulation, and how to do low-power design “properly”. Quite an interesting exchange, and I think that Frank is a bit more right in his thinking about virtual platforms and how to use them. Read on for some comments on the exchange.

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Shaking a Linux Device Driver on a Virtual Platform

To continue from last week’s post about my Linux device driver and hardware teaching setup in Simics, here is a lesson I learnt this week when doing some performance analysis based on various hardware speeds.

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Learning Linux Device Drivers on a Virtual PowerPC

There are times when working with virtual hardware and not real hardware feels very liberating and efficient (not to mention safe). Bringing up, modifying, and extending operating systems is one obvious such case. Recently, I have been preparing an open-source-based demonstration and education systems based on embedded PowerPC machines, and teaching myself how to do Linux device drivers in the process. This really brought out the best in virtual platform use.

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Cadence on Virtual Prototypes instead of Host Execution

Cadence technical blogger Jason Andrews wrote a short piece a couple of days ago on his perception that host-based execution is becoming unncessary thanks to fast virtual platforms. In “Is Host-Code Execution History“, he tells the story of a technique from long time ago where a target program was executed directly on the host, and memory accesses captured and passed to a Verilog simulator. The problem being solved was the lack of a simulator for the MIPS processor in use, and the solution was pretty fast and easy to use. Quite interesting, and well worth a read.

However, like all host-compiled execution (which I also like to call API-level simulation) it suffered from some problems, and virtual platforms today might offer the speed of host-compiled simulation without all the problems.

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ChipDesignMag Article on Software in Hardware Design

Chip Design Magazine published an article by me in their August/September 2008, about Getting Software into the Hardware Design Loop. The article is about the technical and marketing aspects of how chip designers can get early feedback from software and systems designers, early in the hardware design process. The vehicle for this? Virtual platforms, obviously.

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Architecture Exploration by Free Market

This is a short maybe heretic post on the topic of architecture exploration.

It just struck me the other day that the idea prevalent in chip design that you want to explore the design space of a certain with great detail and precision might be the wrong way to go about things. It is in some sense similar to the ideas of planned economies: you decide a priori what is important, and try to optimize the design to do just that. If you are right, it is brilliant. If you are wrong, it can be very wrong. That is scary to say the least. It seems to assume that you have a pretty good idea of what you need to achieve, and that this is not likely to change for the lifetime of a design.

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Software, Hardware, and Development Methods

opinionI just read an opinion-provoking piece “Software developer attitudes: just get on with it” by Frank Schirrmeister, as well as the article “Life imitating art: Hardware development imitating software development” by Glenn Perry that he linked to. Both these articles touch on the long-standing question of who does development the “best” in computing. I have heard these arguments many times, where software developers think that there is something mythical about hardware development that makes things work so much better with much fewer bugs, and hardware people looking at the speed of development and fanciful fireworks of coding that software engineers can do. It could be a case of the grass always looking greener on the other side… but there are some concrete things that are relevant here.

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Schirrmeister has a nice observation on model-based development

Model-based architecture (MDA) or model-based development is an idea that to me comes from the automotive field. To, it means that you use some tool that is capable of modeling both a computer controller system and the environment being controlled to create a simulation world where computer control and environment meet and the characteristics of the controller can be ascertained quickly. The key is to not have to convert controller algorithms to concrete code, and not have to run concrete code on concrete hardware against physical prototypes to test the controllers. Today, this seems to be applied to many fields where you are creating control systems (automotive, aviation, robotics). The tools are math-based like MatLab and LabView, along with special programming environments based on UML and StateCharts.

What is interesting is that most of these tools are graphical in nature. And they do seem to work quite well, which is quite surprising given the otherwise poor record of graphical programming as opposed to text-based programming. There were a pile of graphical programming environments in the 1980’s, none of which amounted to much. What survived and prospered were the good old text-based languages like C, C++, Java, VisualBasic, etc.  In practice, it seems like it is very hard to beat sequential text when it is time to actual get code working. More efficient programming seems to boil down to having to write less text and having text which is easier to write (for example, dynamic typing, rich libraries, garbage collection, and other modern language features that remove intellectual burdens from the programmer).

But graphics do seem to work for domain-specific cases (like control engineering or signal processing), especially for data-flow-style problems. And for abstract architecture work. So there has to be something to it… but what?

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