Modern society increasingly relies upon integrated circuits (ICs). It can be very costly if ICs do not function properly, and large portions of designer effort are spent on their verification. The use of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) for verification and debug of ICs is increasing. FPGAs are faster than simulation and cost less than fabricating an ASIC prototype. However, the major challenge of using FPGAs for verification and debug is observability. Designers must use special techniques to observe the values of FPGA's internal signals. This thesis proposes a new method for increasing the observability of FPGAs and demonstrates its feasibility. The new method incrementally inserts trace buffers controlled by a trigger into already placed-and-routed FPGA designs. Incremental insertion allows several drawbacks of typical trace-based approaches to be avoided such as influencing the placing and routing of the design, large area overheads, and slow turnaround times when changes must be made to the instrumentation. It is shown that it is possible to observe every flip flop in Xilinx Virtex-5 designs using the method, given that enough trace buffer capacity is available. We investigate factors that influence the results of the method. It is shown that making the trace buffers wide may lead to routing failures. Congested areas of the circuit must be avoided when placing the trigger or this may also lead to routing failures. A drawback of the method is that it may increase the minimum period of the design, but we show that pipelining can reduce these effects. The method proves to be a promising way to observe thousands of signals in a design, potentially allowing designers to fully reconstruct the internal values of an FPGA over multiple clock cycles to assist in verification and debug.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Electrical and Computer Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





FPGAs, verification, debug, incremental synthesis, observability