FPGA Judgment Day: Rise of Second Generation Structured ASICs

The last 15 years have witnessed the demise in the number of cell-based ASIC designs as a means for developing customized SoCs. Rising NREs, development times and risk have mostly restricted the use of cell-based ASICs to the highest volume applications; applications that can withstand the multi-million dollar development costs associated with 1-2 design re-spins. Analysts estimate that the number of cell based ASIC design starts per year is now only between 2000-3000 compared to ~10,000 in the late 1990s. The has emerged as a technology that fills some of the gap left by cell-based ASICs. Yet even after 20+ years of existence and 40X more design starts per year than cell-based ASICs, the size of the FPGA market in dollar terms remains only a fraction that of cell- based ASICs. This suggests that there are many FPGA designs that never make it into production and that for the most part, the FPGA is still seen by many as a for prototyping or college education and has perhaps even succeeded in actually stifling industry innovation.

This paper introduces a new technology, the second generation Structured ASIC, that is tipped to reenergize the path to innovation within the electronics industry. It brings together some of the key advantages of FPGA technology (i.e. fast turnaround, no mask charges, no minimum order quantity) and of cell-based ASIC (i.e. low unit cost and power) to deliver a new platform for design.

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