NVIDIA provides a glimpse at their emulation lab, the 6,000-foot space where the company tests future GPUs and mobile processors via hardware emulation. You can check it out over here.
Hardware emulators re-create a specific computing environment so design engineers can test the design and performance of new processors after a chip has been designed but before it’s manufactured. It’s one thing to design a breakthrough architecture like Fermi, it’s another to make sure it works correctly in the real world. It’s simply not feasible to make physical prototypes of these chips and iterate for each design tweak. Other solutions – such as software simulators – are much too slow. Emulation speeds up the testing process a thousand fold.
Emulators are designed to provide an exact replica of actual hardware. (Software tools, in comparison, simulate or mimic what a particular piece of hardware will do.) When an emulator is plugged in to a PC, it’s exactly like placing a physical chip on the motherboard. From then on, chip designers can test away.