NVIDIA`s Emulation Lab

NVIDIA`s Emulation Lab

By Admin 24 May 2011 0 comments
  • NVIDIA`s Emulation Lab

NVIDIA Emulation Lab Indus Picture
In this post, we`ll take a look at the NVIDIA`s Emulation lab. Originally published on the 16th May 2011 on their blog, the NVIDIA teams allowed us to see some of the hardware they use in their Emulation Lab.

We have not heard much of the NVIDIA`s Emulation Lab is in the past, but as they said themselves, it`s like a secret-weapon. After being viewed as the base for the world’s largest installation of Cadence Verification Computing Platform Systems, they shared showed some of the high-performance processors they use in their lab.

The NVIDIA`s Emulation Lab is where the team perform test on the newly-designed chips to see if they work properly, before delivering them to the market. Well, designing breakthrough architectures like Fermi, and others is one thing, and making sure that they work and are tweaked, is another one. Hardware emulators are often used to test the design and performance of the chips, as they are by far faster than software emulations. Emulation speeds up the testing process a thousand fold.

Emulators in the NVIDIA`s Emulation Lab provide an exact replica of the actual hardware, while software tools simulate what a particular piece of hardware will do. When an emulator is plugged in to a PC, it’s exactly like placing a physical chip on the motherboard. This is where chip designers can perform the tests.

NVIDIA Emulation Lab Cable Picture
This huge cable comes out of an emulator, delivering the pins of the GPU inside. The team connects the cable to a graphics card in a test PC.

Many companies do not invest in emulation as it is costly and complex. However, the use of emulation in the NVIDIA`s Emulation Lab is what makes them ahead of other competitors. The millions of dollars spent in the NVIDIA`s Emulation Lab have made NVIDIA what we know today, in product performance, and in a , roughly 6,000-foot space room, filled with racks of equipments, cables, pipes, and the related stuff. Each of the emulators are water-cooled, named after a major river.

NVIDIA Emulation Lab Nile Picture
“Nile” is an 8 year old emulator in NVIDIA Emulation lab, still going strong.

Near the front is Tigris, a snowflake-shape configuration of sixteen chassis that was built to emulate Fermi. It’s physically the biggest emulator in the NVIDIA Emulation lab, but no longer the most powerful. That title goes to Indus, a multimillion-dollar steel-blue piece of hardware a little longer than a minivan.

Three and a half years in the making, Indus was designed to handle Kepler, NVIDIA`s next-generation chip architecture and the successor to Fermi. The NVIDIA team worked closely with Cadence on Indus’ design – and although it’s smaller than Tigris, it’s more than twice as powerful. It’s stunning to look at Indus’s mass and complexity and realize that all that power represents one chip.

NVIDIA Emulation Lab Tigris Picture
A space ship? No! It’s the “Tigris” emulator in all its glory

Filling out the NVIDIA Emulation lab are Rhine, Nile and a host of other emulators that might be emulating any number of GPUs designed for uses from mobile to gaming to supercomputing to embedded. If an emulator needs more power, the NVIDIA team can daisy chain them together in the same way gamers improve their system performance by running multiple graphics cards in SLI. The entire NVIDIA Emulation lab has an emulation capacity of 4 billion gates, which are the building blocks of a design.

NVIDIA Emulation Lab Indus Picture
“Indus” : World’s largest emulator, based on Cadence’s Palladium emulator technology.

Each emulator connects to a number of PCs which are used for testing and can be accessed remotely. So, for example, an NVIDIA engineer in India can log on, boot up, and start running tests at any time of day or night. Since all graphics processing goes back, in the end, to drawing triangles, the tests start there. Can this new chip draw a triangle? Can it draw a red triangle (not blue, not green)? Testing proceeds until everyone is satisfied that the chip can handle the most complex visual computing tasks and is compatible with all the necessary drivers, systems and so on. At any point, the designers might need to go back to the drawing board and repeat the process again. Once a chip graduates from the emulation lab, it’s sent out to be “fabbed” by NVIDIA`s manufacturing partners in Taiwan and from there it’s released into the world.

Today, NVIDIA GPUs are powering supercomputers, in-flight entertainment systems and everything in between. They represent some of the most complex technology on the planet. It gives you a new perspective to stand in the emulation lab and think about the advances in these chips – the millions and billions in R&D, the years of work – and realize each one starts out right here, trying to draw a red triangle.

And no to forget, the biggest secret-weapon of NVIDIA: the engineering team. Share this post on NVIDIA`s Emulation Lab

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