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Altium tool integrates FPGA system, board design

Posted: 25 Jan 2006     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Altium Designer  FPGA  field programmable gate array  ARM  Altium 

Altium Ltd, a developer of Windows-based electronics design software, has announced support for a range of discrete 32bit ARM technology-based processors in Altium Designer 6.0, the latest version of its unified electronic product development system. The software integrates board- and FPGA-level system development, embedded software development and PCB layout, editing and manufacture within a single application.

According to the company, the software makes it fast and easy for engineers to develop and debug FPGA-based systems using soft processor cores implemented inside a programmable device using an interactive design methodology called LiveDesign. The methodology is extended to the development of systems that use a discrete processor, such as the ARM720T processor-based Sharp BlueStreak LH79520, connected to an FPGA. This is said to speed the development of ARM processor systems by allowing engineers to utilise the programmable resources of an FPGA to extend processor functionality and easily implement system components and logic.

Altium Designer 6.0 includes a full software tool chain for ARM technology-based processors that supports the ARM7, ARM9, ARM9E and ARM10E processor families. The software development tools are based on the Viper compiler technology, which is used across all processors supported by the Altium Designer system.

"ARM technology-based processors are extensively used in a diverse range of applications from wireless, networking and consumer entertainment solutions to imaging, automotive, security and storage devices," commented Nick Martin, founder and CEO, Altium. "The provision of ARM support in the product brings possibilities to designers of ARM-powered devices in all these industries."

At the hardware level, version 6.0 includes a special FPGA-based 'wrapper' core that allows designers to target Sharp's BlueStreak LH79520 ARM720T core-based processor. The wrapper provides hardware-level design compatibility with Altium Designer's native cross-device 32bit soft processor—the TSK3000— and allows designers to switch between the TSK3000 and a discrete LH79520 processor with only minimal modification to the hardware design. It allows engineers using the BlueStreak to take advantage of the product's range of FPGA-based peripherals by providing a Wishbone OpenBus connection with the processor, and facilitates full source-level code debugging. The wrapper core also allows the use of the product's FPGA-based virtual instruments for interactive hardware debugging—LiveDesign. Similar wrapper cores are included to support the hard PowerPC available with Xilinx Virtex-2 Pro FPGAs, the Xilinx MicroBlaze soft processor, and discrete PowerPC processors.

The LH79520 is the first in a number of ARM technology-based and other additional processor wrappers that will be introduced into Altium Designer to support the targeting of a range of third-party processors.

The provision of both hardware and software compatibility between processors means designers can easily migrate designs between execution platforms, Altium said. They can, for example, use the TSK3000 for initial device-independent system development wholly within an FPGA device, and then switch to the LH79520 discrete processor at the prototype stage.

To support the development of ARM technology-based systems, Altium will be releasing a new daughterboard for its NanoBoard LiveDesign development board that features a Sharp BlueStreak LH79520 MCU coupled to a Xilinx Spartan-3 FPGA. The NanoBoard is a 'nano-level breadboard' that integrates with Altium Designer to provide a full LiveDesign implementation and interactive debugging environment for FPGA-based system design. The NanoBoard features swappable daughter boards that house the target programmable devices and other resources, allowing development for multiple FPGA and processors architectures on the same basic platform. Release timing for the daughterboard will be announced shortly.




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