FPGAs are a valuable technology for designing and prototyping digital logic into medium-volume, medium-density applications. Their high unit cost, however, makes an FPGA cost-prohibitive to move into production. Several alternatives exist for taking a digital design implemented with an FPGA into production, including Structured ASICs, cell-based ICs, and gate arrays, all of which offer lower cost, higher performance, lower power consumption, and time-to-market advantages. While the thought of migrating an FPGA design into an ASIC can be overwhelming to a design team, teaming with an experienced ASIC vendor can help ease the process.
Designing a new product in an FPGA allows for design modifications to be made quickly in hardware. Once the design code is stable and the product is ready for production, a migration from an FPGA to a mid range ASIC can cut the production unit cost by one tenth. The low non-recurring engineering (NRE) charges associated with a mid-range ASIC solution coupled with a much lower unit cost make this strategy a powerful tool in achieving low overall costs, giving users a competitive cost advantage in the market.
To help ease the migration process, several items must be considered during the initial design flow. Designs are becoming larger and more complex and the use of specialized IP is now commonplace. Careful selection of IP early during the design phase is essential. In addition, developing the FPGA and ASIC in a parallel design flow will help to speed the process. Finally, planning for portability to an ASIC from the beginning of the project will help to speed time-to-market and decrease costs.
Good design practices such as the use of synchronous design techniques will enable the design to be ported across many different technology platforms. And finally, one of the most important things a design team can do is have good documentation of the design. If a little time and effort is used in the early stages of the design, the migration will require minimal engineering resources. The migration can result in a drop in replacement part or, for additional cost reduction; it can be ported to less expensive technology nodes and/or packaging.