which commercial HDL-Simulator for FPGA?

  • Thread starter SynopsysFPGAexpress
  • Start date

S

SynopsysFPGAexpress

As commodity PC hardware and prouctivity applications deline in price, EDA
tools are as (relatively) expensive as ever, necessitating yet another
discussion of "Which simulator is right for me?"

The contendors are ...

1) Aldec Active-HDL
+ great design-flow assistants (state-diagram, block-diagram,
waveform-diagram editing, export to PDF)
+ possibly faster than Modelsim/PE?
- no direct support in FPGA design-suites (Webpack/Quartus)
- Windoze only (can WINE 1.0 run it?)
- Systemverilog is almost but not quite usable ('package' not
supported?!?)
"less than $6000 for mixed-lang. VHDL+Verilog simulation"
(Note, that configuration is the most basic, doesn't have
SWIFT/Smartmodel)
[first year pepetual-license, yearly maint. is additional 20%/year]

2) Mentor Modelsim PE
+ currently more solid Systemverilog support than Active-HDL,
(but limited to design-constructs, no assertions/coverage)
+ de-facto industry standard,
direct integration into FPGA design-suites (Webpack/Quartus)
+ SWIFT/Smartmodel support (no extra cost if using mixed-HDL license)
- I really don't like the integrated waveform viewer
- Windoze only (can WINE 1.0 run it?)
"less than $10,000 for mixed-lang. VHDL+Verilog simulation"
[first year perpetual-license, yearly maint. is additional 20%/year]

3) FPGA-vendor OEM solution (usually a crippled Modelsim/PE)
+ cheapest
+ Altera Modelsim officially supports Linux (Xilinx does not)
+ Xilinx Modelsim has same level of (design construct) Systemverilog
support as Modelsim/PE, quite good actually
- limited capacity, deliberately slower runtime performance
- term-based only (no perpetual license for Xilinx/Altera?)
- no mixed-HDL (VHDL+Verilog) -- deal-killer for me...
"less than $1500 for 1-language, 1-year license"

If I only had to do 'abstract' RTL-design (algorithm proof, no
device-dependent instantiations...)

*4) gHDL, Icarus Verilog
+ free, open-source VHDL, Verilog
- emacs/gvim not included
- no mixed-HDL (VHDL+Verilog) sim

..............

Kidding aside, my real requirements:

1) I foresee mixed-HDL as a *requirement* for any serious consulting job.
(Xilinx and Altera are pretty good about providing 'HDL-neutral IP', but
third-parties aren't.)

2) ASIC sign-off is obviously not a concern -- who's going to compete with a
professional turn-key bureau?

3) Design-size (capacity) is an unknown. For front-end (RTL) simulation, I
think even the OEM Modelsims are adequate. But for gate-level, that might
push them over the limit. It's interesting that even a 'budget' <$500
FPGA-board already has sufficient gate-capacity to overwhelm a
single-designer...progress!

3) validation/qualification with fpga vendor. I like Active-HDL's
user-interface more than Modelsim, but I can't escape the fact that
Modelsim/PE has wider industry endorsement. It's hard to argue with the
management types who're more interested in checkboxes than the less
tangibles (oh ... like ... employee productivity?)

Finally, I note the irony of Modelsim/Altera and Modelsim/Xilinx editions.
Altera Quartus-II supports Systemverilog synthesis, quite well, actually.
But Altera's Modelsim is based on the aging 6.1g version, which is
regrettably limited. Xilinx Webpack doesn't support Systemverilog, but
their Modelsim/XE is based on the more recent 6.3c codebase. I find it
useful for testbenching, though too many colleagues heckle me for my
systemverilog "religion." (I believe in it, and so should they.)
 
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M

Mike Treseler

SynopsysFPGAexpress said:
As commodity PC hardware and prouctivity applications deline in price, EDA
tools are as (relatively) expensive as ever, necessitating yet another
discussion of "Which simulator is right for me?"

This reads like a thinly veiled marketing survey.

If you actually are a designer,
get a proto design ready,
order evals of each simulator
then try them and see for yourself.
Kidding aside, my real requirements:
Which part were you kidding about?
1) I foresee mixed-HDL as a *requirement* for any serious consulting job.
(Xilinx and Altera are pretty good about providing 'HDL-neutral IP', but
third-parties aren't.)

The device vendors are only HDL-neutral because
they are selling device netlists, not source code.
Not a plus in my book.

-- Mike Treseler
 
J

jprovidenza

Don't forgethttp://fintronic.com/home.htmlandhttp://simucad.com/products/verilogSimulation/silos-x.html

I personally like Finsim (from Fintronic) a lot. It's a compiled
simulator and it's quite fast.

I've been using Veritak, a low cost Veritak simulator. It has had
some bugs, but the author
is VERY quick to fix problems. A surprise - he is also VERY
responsive to requests for
new features or enhancements. I'm very pleased with his product.

John Providenza
 
K

Kevin Neilson

SynopsysFPGAexpress said:
As commodity PC hardware and prouctivity applications deline in price, EDA
tools are as (relatively) expensive as ever, necessitating yet another
discussion of "Which simulator is right for me?"

The contendors are ... ....

If you have Xilinx ISE 10.1, check out ISIM, which comes "free" with it.
It's much improved and may meet your needs and in future releases
should have better a better user interface. I don't think it currently
supports SystemVerilog, (and you are correct in propagating your
religion) but might soon. Modelsim is still the best, but you pay for a
lot of things you don't really need, and the waveform viewer could be
improved. That's where you spend 90% of your time during debugging so
it should be a little easier to use.
-Kevin
 
J

Jason Zheng

On Thu, 19 Jun 2008 19:27:10 +0000 (UTC)
However with modelsim it looks like there is no way to do this.
Instead, when you add a signal to the viewer in the GUI, it re-runs
the entire simulation to get the new signal. Am I missing something
or is this really how it works? I can't believe that it would really
work this way.

Invoke vsim with -do "log -r *; run -all; quit -f" and -wlf
"mydump.wlf", and you'll get similar results (just in a different
format). In my experience ncsim is faster than Modelsim, and of course
it carries a higher price tag.

Older versions of Modelsim also seems to stall after long simulations,
wehreas ncsim never gave me any problems.
 
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P

Patrick Dubois

As commodity PC hardware and prouctivity applications deline in price, EDA
tools are as (relatively) expensive as ever, necessitating yet another
discussion of "Which simulator is right for me?"

The contendors are ...

1) Aldec Active-HDL
+ great design-flow assistants (state-diagram, block-diagram,
waveform-diagram editing, export to PDF)
+ possibly faster than Modelsim/PE?
- no direct support in FPGA design-suites (Webpack/Quartus)
- Windoze only (can WINE 1.0 run it?)
- Systemverilog is almost but not quite usable ('package' not
supported?!?)
"less than $6000 for mixed-lang. VHDL+Verilog simulation"
(Note, that configuration is the most basic, doesn't have
SWIFT/Smartmodel)
[first year pepetual-license, yearly maint. is additional 20%/year]

One vote for Active-HDL. I briefly used Modelsim before we bought
Active-HDL and for me anyway, the Active-HDL interface is much better.
It's true that it's not officially supported by Xilinx but in practice
that really never caused too much of a problem.

I really like to create a schematic top level with blocks that are
either more schematics themselves or directly vhdl blocks. That way
it's much easier to see how everything connects together, it helps
comprehension. I don't quite understand why some people insist on
writing direct VHDL connections between blocks. It's a little bit like
insisting on writing pspice netlists for simulations instead of using
the schematic editor. Active-HDL converts schematics to vhdl code
anyway, so it's never too late to go back to vhdl-only code. The
resulting code will be very clean if you keep your top level free of
logic.

The state-machine editor in Active-HDL is another story. To me simple
state machines don't need to be represented by a diagram to be
understood. On the other hand, large ones are hard to represent in a
diagram. So in the end I only write vhdl state machines.

Patrick
 
S

SynopsysFPGAexpress

Mike Treseler said:
This reads like a thinly veiled marketing survey.

It is, I apologize if I mislead anyone. I wanted to hear other people's
choices and
compare them to my situation.
Which part were you kidding about?

For gHDL and Icarus Verilog, I said "emacs/gvim not included." It was a
poor attempt at humor.
The device vendors are only HDL-neutral because
they are selling device netlists, not source code.
Not a plus in my book.

That's something I didn't think about, and I checked Xilinx's website.
It turns out, some of their IP-blocks (Microblaze, PCIe, PPC440, etc.) use
a new 'SecureIP' format, and so far, only Modelsim is supported. That
doesn't bode well, either...

http://www.xilinx.com/support/answers/30481.htm
 
R

rickman

...

If you have Xilinx ISE 10.1, check out ISIM, which comes "free" with it.
It's much improved and may meet your needs and in future releases
should have better a better user interface. I don't think it currently
supports SystemVerilog, (and you are correct in propagating your
religion) but might soon. Modelsim is still the best, but you pay for a
lot of things you don't really need, and the waveform viewer could be
improved. That's where you spend 90% of your time during debugging so
it should be a little easier to use.
-Kevin

Apologies if you are a Xilinx person, but I tried their Web Pack
edition with the in house tools and the simulator really sucks... or
blows or something not so good. Although I didn't see any issues with
the simulation speed, the compile speed is pretty slow. I was using
it for a while when my design was pretty small and the compiles were
taking half a minute. Using Aldec Active HDL the compiles take a
second for a much larger design and the simulation speed is not bad
considering that it is "crippled"ware.

Xilinx seems committed to improving their in house sim. I posted
about in a news group and got a reply from one of the developers which
was almost apologetic and sincerely interested in what I found
lacking.

In the meantime I expect to stick with commercial packages. When I do
make the switch, it will likely be to an open source simulator.

Rick
 
R

rickman

As commodity PC hardware and prouctivity applications deline in price, EDA
tools are as (relatively) expensive as ever, necessitating yet another
discussion of "Which simulator is right for me?"
The contendors are ...
1) Aldec Active-HDL
+ great design-flow assistants (state-diagram, block-diagram,
waveform-diagram editing, export to PDF)
+ possibly faster than Modelsim/PE?
- no direct support in FPGA design-suites (Webpack/Quartus)
- Windoze only (can WINE 1.0 run it?)
- Systemverilog is almost but not quite usable ('package' not
supported?!?)
"less than $6000 for mixed-lang. VHDL+Verilog simulation"
(Note, that configuration is the most basic, doesn't have
SWIFT/Smartmodel)
[first year pepetual-license, yearly maint. is additional 20%/year]

One vote for Active-HDL. I briefly used Modelsim before we bought
Active-HDL and for me anyway, the Active-HDL interface is much better.
It's true that it's not officially supported by Xilinx but in practice
that really never caused too much of a problem.

I really like to create a schematic top level with blocks that are
either more schematics themselves or directly vhdl blocks. That way
it's much easier to see how everything connects together, it helps
comprehension. I don't quite understand why some people insist on
writing direct VHDL connections between blocks. It's a little bit like
insisting on writing pspice netlists for simulations instead of using
the schematic editor. Active-HDL converts schematics to vhdl code
anyway, so it's never too late to go back to vhdl-only code. The
resulting code will be very clean if you keep your top level free of
logic.

I use a purely HDL hierarchy. I find that top level schematics or
even low level schematics of large functions tend to end up being more
like a net list than a drawing anyway. You have pins with names X,Y,Z
connected to net R,S,T on page 1. On page 2 you have nets R,S,T
connected to another part with pin names A,B,C. Making it a drawing
doesn't add much in my opinion. Once I gave up hope for schematics
and embraced the HDL world, I found joy in a life of text files and
the infinite advantages they have in the land of version control!

The state-machine editor in Active-HDL is another story. To me simple
state machines don't need to be represented by a diagram to be
understood. On the other hand, large ones are hard to represent in a
diagram. So in the end I only write vhdl state machines.

I agree. Again a diagram can only offer a bit more here than can the
HDL text file, but I don't like using special tools that make the code
more difficult to port. Keeping it in HDL can work well and has all
of those text and portability advantages.

Rick
 
H

HT-Lab

General Schvantzkopf said:
I've done some benchmarking on Verilog simulators.

Lies, damn lies and benchmarks :)
Here are the times for
running our regression suite on one of our cores.
I ran the test suite on
Cadence NCSim on CentOS5, Mentor's Questa on both CentOS5 and XP, and
Altera's Modelsim on CentOS5.

Benchmarking is very difficult and not only requires multiple designs and
knowing the environment inside out you also need to know what the simulator
is doing to your code. Verilog has the advantage(?) that you can tweak the
simulator to improve performance however, this might break some simulations.
(Un)fortunately this is not possible with VHDL which is far more stricter in
what you can do with the compiler. Using one core without mentioning how
you measured it, simulator/compiler settings, versions etc is not much use
IMHO.
The system is a 3GHz Core2 with 8G of DDR.
NC is the fastest but Questa on CentOS5 is close. Questa on XP is much
slower then it is on Linux.

I found the same.
The Altera ModelSim is dog slow which is to
be expected, I'm sure that Mentor has deliberately crippled it.

This is fully documented. I believe the OEM versions are about 40% of PE,
however, the problem is that after a certain number of lines it grinds to a
halt and becomes completely useless.

Hans
www.ht-lab.com
 
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K

kkoorndyk

This didn't work, but I eventually figured it out:

Start with an empty directory except for some verilog files you want to
simulate:

# Create work directory
vlib work

# Compile verilog files (vcom for vhdl)
vlog tb.v
vlog dut.v

# Simulate
vsim -do "log -r *; run -all; quit -f" work.tb

   - this creates a vsim.wlf file with everything in it just
     as you say.

Now try to view the waveform.  If I try:

vsim -wlf vsim.wlf work.tb -do "view wave; add wave *"

This brings up modelsim GUI and opens the waveform viewer window.  All of
signals are in the viewer, and they're all empty.

But this does work:

vsim -view vsim.wlf -do "view wave; add wave *"

but it won't work after you have done the previous vsim -wlf command, vsim
-wlf does something to the .wlf file or sets something in an initialization
file somewhere.  I had to re-run the simulation before "vsim -view ..." for
it to work.

The "-wlf XXXX.wlf" option renames the output file to 'XXXX.wlf'. So
if you run your sim and then run the command with the -view option,
it'll work fine. If you run 'vsim -wlf vsim.wlf work.tb -do "view
wave; add wave *"', it erases your previous vsim.wlf and opens a new
one with that name. That's why the waveform opens with no data.

I'll typically add the signals I want to log to a .do file instead of
logging all of the signals in a design. The more signals you log, the
slower ModelSIM runs.

I notice that when the GUI is open, I can't also run a simulation on the
command line because there is only one license.

Yea, but if you have the GUI open already, why not just run the sim in
the GUI?
 
P

Patrick Dubois

I use a purely HDL hierarchy. I find that top level schematics or
even low level schematics of large functions tend to end up being more
like a net list than a drawing anyway. You have pins with names X,Y,Z
connected to net R,S,T on page 1. On page 2 you have nets R,S,T
connected to another part with pin names A,B,C. Making it a drawing
doesn't add much in my opinion. Once I gave up hope for schematics
and embraced the HDL world, I found joy in a life of text files and
the infinite advantages they have in the land of version control!

I agree that a top level schematic is exactly like a netlist, but the
difference to me anyway is that I can quickly grasp how each blocks
are connected together. I try to keep most blocks on one large 11x17
page. Here's an example of what I mean:
http://www.yousendit.com/transfer.php?action=download&ufid=B152F0A35F44CD17

With a netlist, I have to read the several lines of vhdl code to
understand how the blocks are connected and that takes a longer time.
Ideally, the vhdl netlist is also accompanied by a block diagram. With
the schematics flow, the block diagram comes free.

The drawbacks of course are the version control problems associated
with schematics files and the lack of a standard file format. To me
the version control issues are not a big deal because all the meat is
in the vhdl blocks anyway, not the top level.

Patrick
 
M

Mike Treseler

General said:
The Altera ModelSim is dog slow which is to
be expected, I'm sure that Mentor has deliberately crippled it.

NC, Linux 0:06:34
Questa, Linux 0:07:15
Questa, XP 0:18:14
Altera ModelSim, Linux 1:00:13


Thanks for taking the time to run the test
and for sharing the results.
Interesting that speed is roughly proportional
to the cost of the license.

While the oem version is "dog slow" in this lineup,
it is still quite useful for debugging rtl
when all the licenses are checked out.

-- Mike Treseler
 
J

Jason Zheng

The NFS mounted host directory performance on VMware was
about the same as native XP performance which leads me to believe
that XP's problem is it's file system.

That's hardly a convincing proof that all the performance increase is
due to file system. In my experience, NFS does slow down ncsim a lot
when I turn on the waveform dumping, but without waveform dumping,
there is no noticeable performance difference after the
design elaboration.

I'm not saying filesystem isn't part of it, but for a long simulation
with no data logging, 99% of the time the simulator is not doing file
I/O. Rather, I believe the following two play a more major role in the
speed difference:

1. Context switching. Linux is very very good at this. In a workstation
environment where I/O interrupts happen hundreds of times a second,
context switching happens everytime the CPU switch to run from one
process to the next one. What's good about the Linux kernel is that you
can tune a lot of things: the amount of interrupts, how frequently
the kernel service them, and how pre-emptible the kernel is. A
fine-tuned batch server can very fast. Not so much help from XP. I
believe Windows 2000 does have an option to choose between server and
desktop mode, but not sure what difference it makes.

2. Memory management. Linux is again very very good at this. Filesystem
caching and virtual memory management works hand-in-hand. My 1GB RAM
workstation ran 99.9% of time without going to swap partition, whereas
in Windows XP, the same workstation constantly sees harddrive
thrashing, especially after running a very memory intensive job.
 
M

Mike Treseler

Patrick said:
I really like to create a schematic top level with blocks that are
either more schematics themselves or directly vhdl blocks.

I agree with rickman on the notion of a pure HDL hierarchy,
but, like you, I also like to see structural views at all levels,
including the top. However, I don't like to edit
or to maintain graphical sources.

I let the quartus rtl viewer draw my schematics
based on my synthesis code alone.
I can bring it up live to drill down
module by module or print out pdfs
at any level like this:
http://mysite.verizon.net/miketreseler/uart.pdf
http://mysite.verizon.net/miketreseler/stack.pdf
The state-machine editor in Active-HDL is another story. To me simple
state machines don't need to be represented by a diagram to be
understood. On the other hand, large ones are hard to represent in a
diagram. So in the end I only write vhdl state machines.

Yes, a case statement is easy to write, read, and sim.
Drawing curvy arrows and attaching equations is fun once.

-- Mike Treseler
 
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M

Mike Treseler

General said:
What should be of most interest to anyone who is looking to buy a serious
simulator is the difference between Linux and XP.

I thought maybe that went without saying.
It is the main reason I maintain an SE license.
Not only is it faster in linux (your numbers look about right to me),
but I can take advantage of the ease of scripting
make and vsim commands to do things like daily
builds and verification from an svn repository.
I ran the same version
VMware's shared folders were just as fast as
VMware's virtual disk performance i.e. about 10% slower then the native
performance.

Thanks for the VMware info.
I'm still old-school with
two optiplex boxes and a kvm switch.

-- Mike Treseler
 
G

ghelbig

Regardless of the source of the IO performance problems, the
effect was dramatic which is why I'm assuming that it's disk IO that's
XP's problem. However I'm willing to concede that this is just a guess,
it could be any number of other factors as many posters have pointed out.
My original point was that if you are going to shell out for an expensive
simulator like NC, VCS or Questa, you shouldn't cripple it by running on
Windows.

My tests indicate that the virtual memory manager in windows causes
large simulations to run at 10% of the speed of a Linux/Unix/Solaris
box.

Which validates your original point.

G.
 
R

rickman

I agree that a top level schematic is exactly like a netlist, but the
difference to me anyway is that I can quickly grasp how each blocks
are connected together. I try to keep most blocks on one large 11x17
page. Here's an example of what I mean:http://www.yousendit.com/transfer.php?action=download&ufid=B152F0A35F...

With a netlist, I have to read the several lines of vhdl code to
understand how the blocks are connected and that takes a longer time.
Ideally, the vhdl netlist is also accompanied by a block diagram. With
the schematics flow, the block diagram comes free.

The drawbacks of course are the version control problems associated
with schematics files and the lack of a standard file format. To me
the version control issues are not a big deal because all the meat is
in the vhdl blocks anyway, not the top level.

I agree completely with the enhanced readability of a drawing at a
high level. The details are not improved at all, but it is easy to
see the large scale connections in a drawing. I guess I just don't
bother to use a schematic for that, I just make a block diagram to go
with the HDL.

It is a shame that there is no standard way of representing drawings.
This would help a lot with the other issues of version control, etc.
But my preference would be to use software which would *produce* a
drawing from the source code. Even if it required the user to draw
the connection lines, it would be helpful to have a program that would
create the symbols and keep them in sync with the HDL code for each
module. I would find this useful even at lower levels. After all, a
picture is worth a thousand words, right?

As long as we are talking about our "wish list", I would also like an
editor that was smart enough to complete words and sentences in my
HDL. There are any number of ways that a program can track what you
are doing and try to anticipate your actions as you type. For
example, if I am creating a clocked process and typing an assignment
for a signal or variable , it would be nice to have the software know
that it needs a definition and an initialization in the reset portion
of the process. So as soon as I enter the assignment, it would take
me to the appropriate spot for the definition and start it for me to
complete followed by the same for the initialization in the reset
section of the process.

If I am typing a "with" statement, I want the software to see the word
"with" and put the rest of the structure on the screen for me to fill
in the blanks. I find all the typing to be tedious and error prone,
not to mention that after all these years, I still don't have the
syntax memorized and keep a small stack of books by my elbow.

Just think how nice it would be to have the editor add the appropriate
conversion function when you type an assignment between incompatible
signals. No error message telling you that you need to convert that
integer to an unsigned, it just adds the conversion!

I hate to use a microsoft product as an example of the "right" way to
do anything, but the version of Word that I use does a pretty good job
of completing words for me sometimes. Even though it is not always
accurate, I have to admit that it does a pretty impressive job of
spell checking and syntax checking, and that is with *English*, not a
well defined language like VHDL or Verilog. I can only imagine that
it would be a much easier job to implement something similar for an
HDL. (spell checkers don't catch when you type and instead of an
though...)

Rick
 
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M

Mike Treseler

rickman said:
But my preference would be to use software which would *produce* a
drawing from the source code.

Quartus rtl viewer does that.
As long as we are talking about our "wish list", I would also like an
editor that was smart enough to complete words and sentences in my
HDL.

Emacs vhdl-mode completes words.

-- Mike Treseler
 

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