September 9, 2013 -- Since the dawn of EDA*, the business has been predominantly a software industry, with one notable exception. From the very beginning, the software-based design verification tools (primarily logic simulators) have been assisted by hardware-based design verification tools, such as hardware modelers, hardware accelerators and hardware emulators.
By its very nature, the software industry is environmentally friendly since it does not impact the environment in any shape or form. The products have no physical footprint; instead they are ethereal. This is not the case with hardware-based design verification tools. They need space to be installed, they possibly require reinforced floors to support their heavy footprint, and they consume energy and produce heat that needs to be dissipated. They are anything but insignificant to the environment. Also, unlike software tools, hardware-based apparatus may have poor reliability with the undesirable side effect that failing parts may pile up and create environmental hazards.
Not anymore. Hardware engineers and software developers don't need to look any farther than the new breed of hardware emulation platforms to find cutting-edge technology that will propel them into the green movement, while still pushing performance and design capacity thresholds to record levels.
The green revolution in emulation has produced machines with smaller physical dimensions, lighter weights and far fewer parts and components than conventional emulators. Today's commercial FPGA-based emulation platforms consume far less energy than their traditional counterparts built on custom silicon. They also require less power to cool the rooms where they reside. This double energy savings means a reduction in the monthly energy bill and a decrease in a company's carbon footprint, all the while relieving stress on the power grid.
The range of power consumed per box is illuminating. Consider that a green emulator uses about 15W for a one-million-gate (MG) ASIC, and compare that to the 45W to 150W, or even more, consumed by a conventional emulator for the same capacity. That's at least one-third to one-tenth the power dissipation, but it could be less than that. Add to that the savings in lower cooling energy (typically about 10% of the emulator power cost depending on the efficiency rating of the A/C equipment) plus the infrastructure cost to provide additional power and cooling capacity. For commercial facilities, there is often a "capacity” charge for the power supply.
But energy consumption is only one of multiple environmental drawbacks of the conventional emulator. Just think of the size of a traditional emulator, at about 52x35x44 inches for about 250MG. Comparatively, the size of a green emulator is about 20x20x20 inches for around 200MG. This in turn leads to a volume of 46 cubic-feet for the big box versus a volume of 4.6 cubic-feet for the green emulator. That's about one-tenth the volume.
The difference in weight is striking as well. Conventional emulators weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 990 pounds for about 250MG, where green emulators weigh a fraction of that, at about 150 pounds for an approximately equivalent configuration. That's less than one-tenth the weight.
Table 1. Physical comparison of a conventional emulator versus an environmentally friendly emulator.
The above numbers are magnified when multiple boxes are interconnected to increase the overall design capacity. For example, a 1-billion gate design would require four of the conventional emulators. That equates to close to 200 cubic feet of volume and almost four thousand pounds of weight. The energy consumption will jump to almost 50kW, plus adequate air cooling. An equivalent green emulator configured to accommodate a 1-billion gate design would require five small boxes occupying only 23 cubic feet of space and weigh just 750 pounds. Meanwhile, it would only drain 15kW of electricity, significantly limiting the air cooling requirements.
Table 2. Physical comparison of a conventional emulator versus an environmentally friendly emulator configured to map a one billion gate capacity.
The differences are not limited to the physical metrics; they also touch operational parameters. Typical performance on a 100-million gate design is 500kHz to 1MHz for conventional emulators, while green emulators clock in at 1.5MHz to 2MHZ. This makes green emulators viable vehicles to validate embedded software in addition to verifying the hardware of system-on-chip designs.
Another noteworthy advantage of the smaller size, weight and lower power dissipation of green emulators is outstanding reliability or long mean-time-between-failures (MTBF). Compare a typically MTBF of a few years for the green emulator to a week or less for a conventional emulator. You may easily anticipate how many failing boards from a conventional emulator will pile up in one year, compared to no failing boards from a green emulator.
But, there is an even subtler aspect — green emulators use significantly less packaging than the conventional emulators, saving in material and labor, and reducing waste for the benefit of a friendlier environment.
These metrics and efforts by emulator vendors to be more eco-friendly prove that new, green emulation platforms can help design teams become "Green Teams," all without compromising speed and capacity. In addition, these platforms will not become obsolete as quickly as older versions due to breakthrough advances in technology.
And while it isn't easy being green in hardware design, it is possible and should be a priority. It could start by forming green initiatives to raise awareness throughout the company about the direct impact a design team and the tools it uses can have on the environment. The next step would be to build a corporate-wide plan to function more sustainably and be environmentally friendly.
Greener, smarter choices in hardware design can be made. Green emulation, to be sure, starts with green consumers.
* Strictly speaking, the industry was born as CAD (computer-aided design), encompassing early layout and place-and-route tools, and a few years later was sided by CAE (computer-aided engineering) stations, including schematic entry, design verification tools, and other front-end tools. EDA arose from the merging of CAD and CAE tools.
By Lauro Rizzatti
Lauro Rizzatti is Senior Director of Marketing for Emulation at Synopsys. He joined Synopsys via the acquisition of EVE. Prior to the acquisition, he was general manager of EVE-USA and Marketing Vice President. In the past, he held positions in management, product marketing, technical marketing and engineering.
Go to the Synopsys, Inc. website to learn more.