Hardware Software Partitioning in Digital System Design


In the realm of digital system design, one of the most crucial decisions an engineer must make is how to partition a system into its hardware and software components. This process, known as hardware-software partitioning, involves dividing the functionalities of a system into those that will be implemented in hardware and those that will be realized through software. This article delves into the intricacies of this partitioning, its importance, methods, and best practices.

Definition of System Design

In digital system design, the term "system design" refers to the process of creating an architecture that integrates various subsystems such as data processing, storage, power management, and interfaces to meet specific product requirements.

Importance of Hardware-Software Partitioning

Criteria for Partitioning

Methods of Hardware-Software Partitioning


Before diving into partitioning, profiling the system is crucial to understand computational bottlenecks and performance metrics. For example, running a custom audio preprocessing algorithm like noise cancellation can significantly burden the general-purpose CPU core, where resources could be better allocated for other tasks like background services. Profiling in this context would involve monitoring CPU and memory usage specifically for this algorithm, as well as observing metrics like response latency during the startup of the execution thread. 

Manual Partitioning

Here, the designer uses their expertise to allocate tasks between hardware and software components.

Automated Techniques

Algorithms and tools can also assist in the partitioning process, often using optimization techniques to find the best distribution of tasks.

Best Practices

Case Study: A Smart Home System

In a smart home system featuring sensors, actuators, voice control, and a central processing unit, control algorithms could be software-implemented for easier updates. Real-time tasks like sensor and audio interfacing are best handled in hardware for speed. For instance, a Voice Activity Detector (VAD) algorithm can be implemented on a separate low-power micro-controller chip to offload the "always-on" detection of voice presence. This chip can then send a wakeup trigger to the central processing unit, signaling it to open the audio capture port for voice recognition streaming. This serves as an example of effective hardware-software partitioning in voice detection. 


Hardware-software partitioning is an essential but often overlooked aspect of digital system design. Proper partitioning can make or break a system's efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and adaptability. By applying thoughtful methods and best practices, engineers can create digital systems that are both powerful and flexible.


By understanding these facets of hardware-software partitioning, system designers are better equipped to construct efficient and effective digital systems, particularly in the fast-evolving field of consumer electronics.