The constantly growing complexity of embedded systems is a challenge that drives the development of novel design automation techniques. C-based system-level design addresses the complexity challenge by raising the level of abstraction and integrating the design processes for the heterogeneous system components. In this article, we present a comprehensive design framework, the system-on-chip environment (SCE) which is based on the influential SpecC language and methodology. SCE implements a top-down system design flow based on a specify-explore-refine paradigm with support for heterogeneous target platforms consisting of custom hardware components, embedded software processors, dedicated IP blocks, and complex communication bus architectures. Starting from an abstract specification of the desired system, models at various levels of abstraction are automatically generated through successive step-wise refinement, resulting in a pin-and cycle-accurate system implementation. The seamless integration of automatic model generation, estimation, and verification tools enables rapid design space exploration and efficient MPSoC implementation. Using a large set of industrial-strength examples with a wide range of target architectures, our experimental results demonstrate the effectiveness of our framework and show significant productivity gains in design time.
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