Bringing up prototype circuit boards is a tipping point in the product development cycle. Unfortunately, it too often becomes a tripping point. Boards that won’t come up can derail the project entirely, delaying the launch of the product into the market and generating staggering opportunity costs. Board bring-up must verify the functionality of the hardware so that application software can be loaded and debugged. Without a known-good-board, diagnosing software bugs would be futile.
The legacy technologies that have been employed during board bring-up have their limitations. Some, like manufacturing defect analysis (MDA) and in-circuit test (ICT) systems, involve fixtures that are very expensive and time-consuming to design and assemble. And any design change on the board will necessitate another set of expensive fixtures and long delays while they are fabricated. Other types of test equipment, like oscilloscopes and logic analyzers, may not require a fixture, but they are expensive and finding physical access for the probes they rely on for high-speed I/O testing is like finding a needle in a haystack. Test pads are disappearing from boards and device pins are hidden underneath silicon.
Now many engineers are turning to software-based non-intrusive embedded instruments to perform tests, to gather validation data and to diagnose any hardware faults that may be present on a circuit board. And these tools can be employed before operating firmware or software have been loaded onto the board. Without fixtures and without probes, non-intrusive validation, test and debug techniques can accelerate the board bring-up process, reduce the costs associated with board bring-up and help deliver new systems to the marketplace on time.
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