Semiconductor IP News and Trends Blog
Semiconductor IP Company Makes Actual Consumer Product?
“Coincidences mean you’re on the right path.” — Simon Van Booy, Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories
I was looking for an example of a “pure software environment” when my Google search led me to the Pure “software” division of Imagination Technologies. As you know, IMG (London Stock Exchange symbol for the company) is well-known for its communication and graphic-processing-unit (GPU) intellectual properties (IPs) – plus the recent acquisition of MIPS.
Apparently, IMG’s Pure division creates actual consumer products, namely digital-audio-broadcasting (DAB) radios (i.e., Internet radio). These devices utilize many of the company’s IP cores. In addition to product revenue, these radios help to validate IMG’s Meta, Universal Communications Core, digital radio, and audio technologies. According to the website: “Pure is the world’s leading manufacturer of DAB digital radios and the number-one supplier of radios in the UK.”
It’s noteworthy when a semiconductor IP company can and does make actual products!
But why was I interested in pure software in the first place? It was in regards to a student’s observation about pure vs. embedded software during the verification phase of the hardware-software life cycle.
“Pure” is a term you seldom use in discussing almost any hardware-software system, in part due to software-hardware symbiosis. Pure software generally refers to software that is relatively removed from hardware concerns (e.g., at the application level). For example, in a purely software environment, a system could be simulated without the use of hardware-in-the-loop techniques – as in the verification and validation of automotive hardware and software electronics.
Conversely, in an embedded environment, a verification engineer must consider details of the hardware in the simulation to access discrete I/O signals and deal with the response latency from interrupt handlers. No such concerns are associated with pure software simulation, in which the hardware details are abstracted away (via a model) to enable focus on just the software issues. For these reasons and others, testing in a purely software environment is usually easier than a hardware-software one. After all, the physical constraints imposed by the hardware interface are not an issue (in pure software testing).
My quick Google research did yield the following reference example: “Automatic Generation of Hardware/Software Interfaces” by Myron King, Nirav Dave, Arvind, MIT.
“Modern mobile devices provide a large and increasing range of functionality, from high-resolution cameras, video and audio decoders, to wireless basebands that can work with a variety of protocols. For power and performance reasons, much of this functionality relies on specialized hardware. Often, designers start with a pure software (SW) implementation of an algorithm written in C (or Matlab) and identify computationally intensive parts, which need to be implemented in hardware in order to meet the design constraints. Hardware (HW) accelerators come in three different forms. Hardware can be synthesized as an ASIC for the application at hand….”
“To compare the performance of our language to more conventional methods of HW/SW codesign, we implemented the pure software partition (F) in SystemC and manually in C++. We chose SystemC to establish an upper bound since it is widely used in HW/SW codesign (though generally in the modeling of systems), and the performance is considered by some to be realistic enough to drive design decisions. We chose manual C++ as a lower bound, since this is how embedded devices are commonly written. The SystemC implementation is roughly 3x slower due to the required overhead of modeling all of the simulation events. The manual C++ version is slightly faster than the generated one, as it avoids all discarded work or need for shadow state.”
The relationship between my search for pure software examples and IMG’s consumer-product division was purely accidental (i.e., a coincidence). Still, there might be some clever marketing folks at IMG who disagree.