Soft design is a term that perfectly encapsulates the soft nature of a design, whose functionality and intelligence is embedded into a high-capacity programmable device. By moving functionality out of the physical domain and into the soft, you can create the device intelligence needed to generate sustainable differentiation of your end product in the market place.
Some of the key benefits of soft design include:
- The IP that you program into the system is better protected than physical IP, as the source is not shipped with the product.
- Soft design can happen both before and after the hardware platform is designed.
- Soft design can continue after the product is manufactured and deployed to the end customer. This includes the human interface implemented in the soft design.
- Soft design provides the basis for an ecosystem which can connect your customer to you, via your products.
With their ability to operate at high switching frequencies, FPGAs have provided an ideal platform for implementing large, high speed digital designs, allowing the designer to reduce the size and cost of a product. Today these devices now have sufficient capacity to implement more than just some of the hardware in a product – they can be programmed to implement an entire digital system, including the processor, peripheral components and the interface logic - along with the embedded code running on that processor.
To do this, the engineer needs a design environment that solves the system integration issues – where they can capture the hardware design, write the embedded software for the processor, and implement, test and debug both the hardware and software on the target FPGA.
Altium Designer brings together hardware, software and programmable hardware design within a single, unified environment. This integrated environment provides all the tools necessary to create the embedded intelligence for your product – the hardware design itself and the embedded software which is destined to run on any 'soft' processors defined within that design. Add the Desktop NanoBoard reconfigurable hardware platform – the NB2DSK01 – to the mix and you have a complete FPGA design environment that places embedded intelligence at the center of the design process.
Altium Designer and the Desktop NanoBoard – collectively referred to as the Altium Innovation Station – work seamlessly together to provide:
- A unified software-hardware design solution
- A single design data model
- A single development platform
- Complete hardware and software device vendor independence
- Multiple hardware deployment possibilities
Figure 1. Altium Designer and the Desktop NanoBoard work in harmony to deliver the ultimate Innovation Station.
With Altium's Innovation Station the low level detail is managed for you, leaving you free to focus on embedded intelligence and functionality – the source of true and sustainable product differentiation. The designs you create are limited only by the extent of your imagination.
Soft Design Concepts
From the outside, an FPGA device does not look particularly interesting – 'seen one, seen them all'. Once programmed however, the device 'comes alive' with engineered functionality, becoming the heartbeat for the electronic product in which it resides. It is this functionality that we are concerned with when creating an FPGA design.
The actual content of an FPGA system will depend on the nature of the system – the functionality it requires and the end-task that it is to perform. To effectively develop the system, there are some essential concepts that you will need to understand:
Creating Device Intelligence – The Basics
Exploring Advanced Features