Semiconductor Technology

Without a doubt semiconductor technology has driven the biggest changes in modern electronic system design. The relentless march of new semiconductor process technology continues unabated. As a result, year after year, semiconductor components get bigger, faster, more complex and the cost per gate has continued to fall. On the flip side, the cost of designing and tooling for a component has risen to the point where typically only high volume applications can justify a complete custom design. This has elevated the role of the FPGA.

One of the huge advantages of using pre-designed silicon, such as FPGAs, is that you get access to a leading edge process technology where the cost of development is amortized over millions of parts. For FPGAs, the tooling charge is eliminated and the only development costs are engineering and the relatively inexpensive tools that go along with it.

Comparing FPGA and ASIC we get the following features and benefits of each technology:


Lowest NRE - zero

Highest NRE

Shortest physical design time - a few hours Longest physical design time - 6 months plus
Highest unit cost Lowest unit cost
Highest power consumption Lowest power consumption
Near instant design changes Design changes can require complete re-spin
FPGA style design code ASIC style design code
Embedded IP - SERDES, processor No embedded IP. Start with a blank sheet
Low density (0-15M gates) High density (20M+ gates)


Selecting the right technology for your design is one of the major decisions you will make and will affect every aspect of the process. While it is possible to begin in one technology and move to another it is important to be aware of the technology dependent aspects of the design, such as IP availability, package selection, etc. In addition, the design techniques can differ dramatically between an FPGA and an ASIC. The process of determining which technology is the best fit for your design requirements, budget and schedule must being early in the project cycle. Feel free to contact Octera if you need assistance in this area.

Copyright 2015 Octera Corporation.