There are several ways in which the verification process can be accelerated using special purpose hardware instead of simulation software running on a general purpose machine. There is a lot of term confusion in this area related to the hardware technology types and the use models.
The earliest attempts to use special purpose hardware were to speed up the simulation process itself and these are called simulation accelerators.
Systems that transform the design into something that can be executed on special purpose hardware are generally called emulators although this term is often reserved for those systems that use FPGA like blocks at their core. Other systems have specially designed processor units that can act in much the same was as an emulator fabric. These are referred to as hardware assisted accelerators.
There are several systems that employ commercial FPGA and in some cases these are referred to as emulators and in other cases they are called hardware prototypes or rapid prototypes. While there are differences in the software tool chain associated with these, it is possible to use the same hardware to perform both functions.
Another area of term confusion is associated with the way in which these accelerators are used. In some companies, they refer to it as acceleration if it connected to a software verification environment or testbench because it is replacing the function of the simulator. Alternatively, the special purpose hardware could be connected to ‚Äúlive‚ÄĚ systems such that all input and output is being fed into other pieces of hardware and no software is involved in the verification processes. Some people call this in-circuit emulation while others shorten this to emulation.
Finally, a rapid prototype of a hardware system is often used as a virtual prototype with a software development team. This is used to enable early software development and hardware/software integration. Each of these areas will be discussed in more detail separately.