FPGA based emulation systems are becoming increasingly popular among designers and verification engineers. Given the size of a modern chip design and the necessity to verify its complete behavior, quite often together with its embedded environment, makes software simulation for most practical purposes unworkable and hardware emulation the only option.
FPGAs offer unique Design Automation challenges: large designs need to be partitioned across multiple FPGA boards. Users demand controllability and observability of the system, preferably in a way that seamlessly blends in with existing simulation approaches. For instance, it is often required that the FPGA system runs in a cycle accurate mode with full access to the design-under-test state.
The FPGA systems are proprietary and build to the requested specs. The software tool flow is partly vendor specific and partly custom-made.