When a project starts, one of the most important parts is to build a working prototype. While this is often left until the hardware design is complete and a prototype PCB can be manufacturerd, this creates enormous uncertainly during a large part of the project. Software engineers are not entirely sure what they are targeting. Hardware engineers are not completely sure that their design will be correct.

Early prototyping is one solution to these problems. With an ARM Integrator board, an engineer can make up a prototype of large parts of the system long before a board design exists.

Fundamentally, an ARM Integrator system consists of a platform board and a CPU board which plugs into it. The CPU can be chosen to be the same as the intended CPU for the project. The platform board provides expansion capability to allow peripherals to be connected.

On the platform board are three PCI slots which can be populated with standard PCI cards for many prototyping tasks. Access to the system bus is available on the board, allowing custom connector boards or previous designs to be connected and used in the prototype. For example, an RF interface from a previous design may be wired up to the ARM Integrator platform and used to bring up next-generation software for a radio platform.

Also available are Logic Boards which include a large FPGA. This can be loaded with user peripherals, or peripherals purchased from third parties. ARM supply many standard 'PrimeCell' peripherals, for functions like SDRAM control, LCD control, UARTs, SD card and many others. By using suitable tools, virtually any HDL design can be imported and integrated into the Logic Board.

Bluewater Systems has made use of Integrator functionality in a number of projects. In one case we prototyped virtually an entire product using an Integrator/AP and Integrator/CM920T combination, along with PCI ethernet and video cards. When the production hardware was ready, the software was moved over to the new board in less than two weeks.

While many software engineers are comfortable tarketing a specification, others want to bring up software piece by piece, seeing each part work correctly before moving on to the next. The Integrator platform allows this latter approach, reducing risk and cutting project development time accordingly.