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Designing a RISC-V CPU in VHDL – Adding Trace Dump Functionality #RiscV #VHDL #ZephyrIoT

Another in a series of posts detailing the steps and learning in the design and implementation of a CPU in VHDL. Previous parts are available here.

…you’ll have seen my recent tweets regarding Zephyr OS running on RPU. This was a huge amount of work to get running, most of it debugging on the FPGA itself. For those new to FPGA development, trying to debug on-chip can be a very difficult and frustrating experience. Generally, you want to debug in the simulator – but when potential issues are influenced by external devices such as SD cards, timer interrupts, and hundreds of millions of cycles into the boot process of an operating system – simulators may not be feasible.

Blog posts on the features I added to RPU to enable Zephyr booting, such as proper interrupts, exceptions and timers are coming – but it would not have been possible without a feature of the RPU SoC I have not yet discussed.

Most real processors will have hardware features built in, and one of the most useful low-level tools is tracing. This is when at an arbitrary time slice, low level details on the inner operation of the core are captured into some buffer, before being streamed elsewhere for analysis and state reconstruction later.

These requirements require a circular buffer which is continually recording the state. I’ll define exactly what the data is later – but for now, the data is defined as 64-bits per cycle. Plenty for a significant amount of state to be recorded, which will be required in order to perform meaningful analysis. We have a good amount of block rams on our Spartan 7-50 FPGA, so we can dedicate 32KB to this circular buffer quite easily. 64-bits into 32KB gives us 4,096 cycles of data. Not that much you’d think for a CPU running at over 100MHz, but you’d be surprised how quickly RPU falls over when it gets into an invalid state!

Read more on the implementation in the post here.


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