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VLSI Design
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 580584, 16 pages
Research Article

Enabling Fast ASIP Design Space Exploration: An FPGA-Based Runtime Reconfigurable Prototyper

1Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Cagliari, 09123 Cagliari, Italy
2Silicon Hive B.V., High Tech Campus, 5656AE Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Received 15 September 2011; Revised 22 December 2011; Accepted 22 December 2011

Academic Editor: Lech Jozwiak

Copyright © 2012 Paolo Meloni et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Application Specific Instruction-set Processors (ASIPs) expose to the designer a large number of degrees of freedom. Accurate and rapid simulation tools are needed to explore the design space. To this aim, FPGA-based emulators have recently been proposed as an alternative to pure software cycle-accurate simulator. However, the advantages of on-hardware emulation are reduced by the overhead of the RTL synthesis process that needs to be run for each configuration to be emulated. The work presented in this paper aims at mitigating this overhead, exploiting a form of software-driven platform runtime reconfiguration. We present a complete emulation toolchain that, given a set of candidate ASIP configurations, identifies and builds an overdimensioned architecture capable of being reconfigured via software at runtime, emulating all the design space points under evaluation. The approach has been validated against two different case studies, a filtering kernel and an M-JPEG encoding kernel. Moreover, the presented emulation toolchain couples FPGA emulation with activity-based physical modeling to extract area and power/energy consumption figures. We show how the adoption of the presented toolchain reduces significantly the design space exploration time, while introducing an overhead lower than 10% for the FPGA resources and lower than 0.5% in terms of operating frequency.