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Embedded development with pre-silicon access to chips

Two trends in the embedded systems space are underscored by Vitutech's release of a simulation model of the Freescale MPC8641D dual-core processor: the advent of multicore processors and the growing demand for "concurrent" development.

"This is a new world for the embedded systems guys," says Gary Smith, chief analyst for design and engineering at Gartner-Dataquest. "Once you get multiple processors on a die, you're talking about concurrent software development, which is a big culture shock. The virtualization vendors are giving them the ability to at least look at the processors, and in some cases, to debug and development before the hardware platforms are available."

Freescale Semiconductor's MPC8641D processor is a dual-core, high-performance processor for embedded networking, telecom, military, storage and pervasive computing apps. Virtutech's Simics environment simulates this processor to allow developers to test and debug software for systems based on it without the actual silicon.

"One challenge in bringing a new semiconductor product to market is to enable customers and partners to develop software before silicon is available. Simulation offers an effective way to fill this gap,” said Toby Foster, dual-core system architect for Freescale’s Digital Systems division, in a statement.

Virtualization—or more properly in Virtutech's case, simulation—offers not only the ability to run code before the silicon exists, says Virtutech's CTO and founder Peter Magnusson, but has the advantage of being much more observable and controllable than the real chip. For example, the Simics Hindsight debugging tool allows developers to move forward and backward in the code.

"Our server customers discovered in the last few years how much multicore processors complicate software development," Magnusson says. "Embedded software developers are just beginning to confront the challenges of multicore debugging and development."

Embedded dev tool provider Wind River is using Virtutech's simulation model in its engineering department to develop multicore versions of its products.

With their ability to provide "pre-silicon access" to chips, virtualization has clearly emerged as an important tool for embedded systems development, Gartner-Dataquest analyst Smith says. But he also warns that model-based systems have an inherent flaw: "You just never have enough models," he says. "Among the vendors in this space, that probably means that the one with the most models wins."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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