A typical software debug solution for an embedded systems might involve a JTAG connection to the board, and then some kind of protocol translation software that handles communication between GDB's remote serial protocol and the target JTAG port (see OpenOCD, for instance). The FPGA systems I'm working with include JTAG ports, and the vendors also provide JTAG IP cores for interfacing them to your digital logic. On the other hand, these systems also have nice UARTs that are easy to talk to. We have the opportunity to dramatically simplify the debug toolchain by including support for GDB's remote protocol directly on chip. This would be a hardware implementation of the protocol - no software stubs required.
The GDB Target Engine IP core is essentially a state machine that reads GDB packets coming over the UART (a microusb connection to my laptop). It has direct access to MoxieLite core through some additional wires for extracting register values. It also acts as a bus master to read/write directly to/from memory. The Marin SoC only has one bus master - the moxie core. The nice thing here is that we don't have to add any new bus arbitration logic for the second master, because only one master will ever be active at a time. We're either running in debug mode (active connection to GDB over the UART), in which case the GDB Target Engine is the bus master, or we're running in regular mode, where the moxie core is in control.
The GDB remote protocol includes many commands these days, but only a small number are required to be supported by the target: read/write registers, read/write memory, step and continue.
Current status is that I can connect GDB directly to the SoC using "target remote /dev/ttyUSB0", at which point GDB negotiates with the target to determine what features are supported. I can hit Ctrl-C in GDB to tell the SoC to enter debug mode. The Target Engine core then talks to MoxieLite to extract register values, converts them to ASCII text and sends them back to the debugger over the wire. This includes the PC, so GDB knows where to go. Given that this is working, I'm not too worried about the rest of it - but only time will tell...