The Board Authority, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 6-10, December, 2000

Virtual Prototyping Printed Circuit Boards

Peter Sandborn
CALCE Electronic Products and Systems Consortium
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742


The primary driver of today's commercial electronics market is time-to-market. Portable computers, cellular telephones, and a host of other complex high-density systems, have design cycles that are less than a year long, and market windows that may be even shorter. The very existence of these products depends on finding quick design solutions that meet increasingly challenging performance and cost requirements. Central to the success of these products are highly developed design methodologies and tools that facilitate first-pass success.

Commonly accepted wisdom is that 80% of a product's cost, size, and performance (electrical-timing, thermal-power, and reliability) are committed in the first 20% of the design cycle, yet this is the portion of the design cycle with the least mature design methodologies and design tools. The first 20% of the design cycle includes requirements capture, specification, tradeoff, and partitioning activities - virtual prototyping. The later 80% of the design cycle (which includes a portion of the detailed simulation and all the physical design) is used to refine and implement the design.

Many definitions of virtual prototyping have been used. Strictly defined, a virtual prototype is an executable requirement or specification of a system and the stimuli that describe it in operation at multiple abstraction levels; and virtual prototyping is a top-down design process that produces prototypes for hardware, software, and interface co-specification, co-design, co-simulation, and co-verification. Strict definitions aside, there is general agreement that a virtual prototype is a model that can be evaluated against the system requirements prior to major design or manufacturing investment.

The scope of the virtual prototype depends on ones design threshold. The majority of the electronic systems design community (driven by IC design) confines virtual prototyping to functional verification and architectural design, with very limited treatment of the physical/technological implementation of the system. As electronic packaging takes on a larger role in defining system performance and cost, virtual prototyping will include physical implementation details.

Complete article is available to CALCE Consortium Members

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