Platform-based design is becoming the method of choice for designing SoCs for embedded systems. It gives designers many advantages compared to the more traditional discrete approach to system design that's based on separate multiple-sourced pieces of IP. Also called a system approach, platform-based design is especially helpful to designers developing portable and consumer systems with design cycles of six months or less.
Systems built around multisourced discrete IP are power-hungry as well as time-consuming and costly to develop. Extended licensing negotiations may also be needed for some parts. Resolving all of these issues can require three to six months before engineers even get started on the design itself.
Once a design team begins development, team members working with a discrete IP approach must get extensive training in each of the specialized hardware and software protocols contained in many embedded designs, such as TCP/IP protocol stacks and G.7 protocols for voice functions. A system based either partially or entirely on discrete IP also needs lengthy and intricate hardware and software integration and fine-tuning as well as complex, difficult, and lengthy system-level hardware/software verification. The time and effort required places a heavy burden on hardware designers and embedded software developers. This situation is even more critical in SoCs based on configurable processors and peripheral IP, due to the complexities of a wide variety of possible build choices.
Many SoC design teams therefore choose a hybrid solution between these two extremes: a platform-based approach. This method involves more than just offering a library of specialized IP from multiple sources. Instead, it lets designers focus on what they do best—creating their products' differentiating features—by giving them up to 90% of the hardware and software they need in a unified system-level platform. Designs based on such a platform yield four key benefits: lower power consumption, shorter time-to-market, lower development costs, and shorter verification time. An integrated system-level design approach reduces power consumption because the individual components are finely tuned to reduce gate-level overhead and spurious signal transitions, while simplifying system design and reducing silicon area.
Platform-based design significantly reduces development time and cost and overall design risk, since it limits the number of hardware and software suppliers required. Because system-level SoC design encapsulates multiple types of standardized peripheral IP and software stacks, there's no need to train engineers in specialized protocols when designing platform-based solutions. Huge savings in development time can result from this simple fact.
Integrating system-level IP into an OEM's design can also be done faster when the platform's processor core is equipped with interfaces for standardized internal buses, such as the BVCI and AMBA interfaces, or with a connection to other external devices like a USB interface. This connection lets designers plug in an array of discrete IP to the core design platform.
A unified, integrated, hardware-software platform forms a complete development environment for system-level functional verification of hardware IP as well as for simulation of software IP. Designs based on such a platform can be verified more quickly than if they were based on the alternative.
However, with a unified system-level environment, users can test complex interactions between blocks, analyze hardware and software performance, and develop and test application code using the same simulation platform.