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OK, I love it when people bash NPUs (Programmable or otherwise) for lacking tool chains. I worked at a very large technology company that did many ASICs. All of them used tool chains from internal software groups that were extremely under staffed and under qualified. (BTW, I'm not bashing the tools groups, I'm bashing the company culture that doesn't understand the value of excellent tool chains). In this market I don't think much has changed with respect to these internal groups. When has Cisco or any other company bragged about the great tool chains supporting an ASIC? I can assure you that the developers I know don't think they have great tools.
In MMC's early NPU products they had very poor tool chains but even they have evolved.
I work with an NPU today that's easier to program and has better simulation and hardware debug support then the PowerPC controlling it. (It's NOT Intel based).
Perhaps you did not have the right level of software support involved as part of your NPU evaluation phase.