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What is the Difference Between SoC FPGA and ASIC?

The differences between SoC FPGA and ASIC are often not easily discernible, but they are significant enough to be worth understanding. Here, we’ll compare the two types of chip design, focusing on their cost, design flow, customizability, and non-recurring engineering cost. Which one will you choose? Read on to find out! ASICs have more advantages, while SoCs have some disadvantages.

The Cost Outlay

The cost of SoC FPGA and ASIC is like that of custom IP, but the difference between them is the level of complexity and time-to-market. The former is usually more expensive, but it is possible to design more complex systems in less time. The cost difference is due to the lower production cost of ASICs. However, many customers prefer the latter because of its improved capacity and faster performance.

The cost of SoC FPGA and ASIC is comparable, but ASICs have the edge over FPGAs in performance. The former is better suited to new products and designs, while the latter is more affordable and suitable for older ones. It is also more cost-effective than off-the-shelf components, making it an excellent choice for existing systems. However, ASICs may not be right for all applications, and they may not be as powerful or versatile as other types of chips.

However, the cost of ASIC development is considerably higher, and the development process can take years. It also has a steep learning curve and liaises with the semiconductor foundry. ASICs are cheaper than FPGAs because they consume less power. The FPGA is limited in frequency, while its configurable logic takes up timing margin. In contrast, an FPGA has no NRE costs, so users only pay for the FPGA IC and software.

Another cost difference is the complexity and difficulty of the design flow. FPGAs are much simpler than ASICs, so they are better suited for low-volume applications. However, as with all designs, a high barrier to entry is a significant drawback. For example, an SoC FPGA is much cheaper to develop and deploy. However, it is essential to remember that ASIC development is expensive because it requires a lot of high-end software, expensive tools, and NRE costs.

Design flow

The design flow between SoC FPGA and ASIC has several key advantages. In addition to allowing engineers to incorporate more standard functions into the design, it reduces cost, increases capacity, and improves performance. In addition, ASIC to production methodologies has other notable benefits. For example, a fast TTM reduces overall product development costs and allows for faster product release. But these advantages aren’t the only ones. Many other benefits also make this flow an excellent choice.

The design flow for ASIC is more extensive than that for FPGAs. It involves seven stages and yields a highly specialized chip. On the other hand, an FPGA is faster and simpler. In addition, it’s possible to redesign an ASIC once ready. And if your application requires frequent updates, you can use an FPGA instead. However, this does require more complex design flows.

After determining the basic architecture of the circuit, the implementation process can begin. First, the FPGA vendor provides a translation tool. This tool then translates the synthesized netlist into an FPGA. Next, the process gathers design constraints, including pin assignment and placement, timing requirements, etc. These simulations ensure that the design will run efficiently on the FPGA. Further, it reduces the cost of the design.

In complex designs, quality is a huge concern. Rayming PCB & Assembly does not want to ship faulty equipment to customers. Design methodologies should minimize the risk associated with this aspect of the design. You can benefit from a combination of the two. Consider these advantages and drawbacks when choosing a design flow between SoC FPGA and an ASIC.

Customizability

When evaluating the customizability of an SoC, consider the differences between an ASIC and an FPGA. ASIC is a permanent circuit drawn into silicon, whereas FPGA is a flexible set of blocks connected in a grid. Imagine Lego blocks and a concrete castle, which we can reuse for different designs. Conversely, an ASIC is a permanent circuit.

While the cost of an ASIC can reach millions of dollars, the costs associated with developing an FPGA can be as low as $5000. ASICs are also not capable of creating analog designs, but FPGAs can use RF blocks and analog hardware. Therefore, an ASIC is often the best choice for such a project. While the initial cost of an FPGA is higher, the additional NRE costs will return in the long run. Ultimately, the savings will be significant, especially if the production volume goes beyond the breakeven point.

Infineon was one of the first companies to recognize this need and introduced a Customer-Specific Standard Part, or CSP, in which some FPGA fabric is built-in. With this solution, the manufacturer can provide unique functionality to the customer. Customizability is an essential part of an SoC. By meeting the needs of customers, you can win market share. Infineon’s flexible FPGA to ASIC migration solution will help you create an ASIC that will fit your needs.

The design flow for an FPGA is less complex. The FPGA design flow is much faster and easier. ASIC designers must worry about the back-end design, including the physical layout, manufacturing constraints, and testing. The design flow is far more complex with ASICs and takes several stages. ASICs are more expensive, but they are highly specialized. It is possible to change the function of an SoC FPGA after fabrication.

Non-recurring engineering cost

When comparing the cost of production of SoC, FPGA, and ASICs, one must consider NRE or Non-Recurring Engineering costs. NRE is a fundamental primary consideration when choosing an integrated circuit. While the NRE for ASICs is very high, it is nearly non-existent for FPGAs. However, the difference in NRE is not that significant, and the advantages of the former reflect in their lower unit costs.

For instance, a “structured ASIC” design uses predefined logic mask layers defined by the ASIC vendor or third party. This process allows custom connections between lower-layer logic elements, resulting in a lower per-unit cost and shorter time to market. Because of these benefits, it is often the most cost-efficient option for mid-volume applications.

The non-recurring engineering cost of an ASIC varies according to the process technology used to produce the chip. The per-die cost of an ASIC can range from millions to cents. The NRE cost for an FPGA is minimal, and the cost per unit of an FPGA varies based on the amount of data and processing power.

ASICs are highly specialized integrated circuits designed to implement a specific application. They are a “system on a chip” solution that typically requires very few other components. As a result, these designs can be expensive and complex. However, they offer several benefits. They are scalable, small, and low-power solutions. In addition to being low-cost, these chips have an excellent ROI.

SoC FPGA and ASIC development costs are similar, but FPGAs can scale to thousands of units. As a result, the NRE of structured ASICs is lower than for cell-based ASICs. On the other hand, cell-based ASICs take more than six to nine months to plan.