FPGA Design Services – How to start?

18/04/2018, hardwarebee

If you are looking for FPGA design services, you should find a vendor that perfectly matches your company requirements – both technically and commercially. This means that the FPGA designers in the company should be skilled in the area that you operate, such as: high-speed interfaces, advanced algorithm development or video compression. But also, the business model fits nicely to your company’s payment terms and conditions.


The good news is that finding such an FPGA design services company is not that difficult today, there are many FPGA design service companies worldwide, so it’s just a question of spending some time online, browsing the various websites. Or – alternatively, use HardwareBee.com — that could help you find a match in a split second.



Either way, we’ve created this paper to help those who are just thinking about hiring an external FPGA design services company. The tips described in this paper are suited for any FPGA design project, but perhaps you would need to have more specific criteria and metrics tailored for your project.


Before Contacting an FPGA Design Services Company


Just before you start contacting the different FPGA design services companies, try to be very clear with the FPGA project content. Here are a few questions you need to consider:


Do you have an FPGA specification? – it is often that the first contact to an FPGA design company is taking place too early. If you are not ready to describe the project in detail — the vendor will not able to provide you with a price quote. So, the first step should be to create a document that describes the FPGA functionality, inputs/outputs etc.


Can you use an off-shore company? Or do you prefer someone local? – in many cases using an off-shore FPGA design company will save you money, but not necessarily time.


Do you need someone with domain expertise? – if your FPGA project requires special development skills or experience which are not common (satellite video compression, car brake systems etc), you should first try to nail down the domain expertise. This will shorten the vendor list very quickly.


Do you need a long-term support? – FPGA device can be updated in the field. If you plan future updates to your FPGA (or bug fixes), then try to find a vendor that can support you in the long run.


3 Levels of FPGA Design Services


FPGA design services can be divided into three categories. It’s of course, a simplification of a very complex and time-consuming process, but helpful for this paper purposes.


FPGA Specifications / Requirements

  • Feasibility Study for a new FPGA project
  • FPGA Requirement Specifications


High Level Design / Architecture

  • FPGA Architecture Document
  • FPGA System Specifications
  • FPGA Test Specifications


Detailed Design / Implementation

  • RTL Coding & Verification
  • Integration Soft & Hard IP Cores
  • Debug and Integration


It’s not unusual that one FPGA design company can cover the entire process, as a matter of fact it’s highly recommended to use a sole source. The services often come from a company that offers them in a turnkey design package, so that you can engage with only one vendor.

Please note, some companies will offer a diverse number of services that bring together other elements of development services such as PCB design and layout, embedded software and more. In those cases, your company will benefit from having only one designer or company to engage with.


FPGA Technology and FPGA Design Tools


There are numerous programming and development tools that are used in FPGA design process. The company that you choose which provides the design services should have experience with the target technology and relevant design tools.


There are four companies providing FPGA Technology:


  • Xilinx (Amd)
  • Intel (Altera)
  • Lattice
  • Microsemi (Actel)


You can expect the FPGA design company to use some of FPGA Design Tools in the following list:


  • Xilinx ISE & Vivado
  • Altera Quartus II
  • Actel Libero IDE
  • Lattice Diamond
  • Modelsim DE
  • Cadence NC-Sim
  • Active-HDL



Basically, the FPGA design service you hire should be fully equipped and ready to design your FPGA. Each of the FPGA makers above has specific development tools and processes that the design company should use and follow.





Comparing FPGA Design Services


The following is our model for comparing FPGA design services companies, you can use the following list as a basis to your decision-making process, feel free to add more items to your own list (or share your list with us):


The right FPGA experience – if your FPGA project requires special development skills or domain expertise, you should first try to find a vendor that meets this requirement. Find a partner that has proven development expertise, and make sure your partner understands your end-product and application. Look for a vendor that has a proven track record. Talk to previous customers to learn about your potential partner capabilities.


Compare schedule not only prices – not enough has been said about quality vs quantity. It easy to choose a vendor with the lowest price, but what about the project schedule. Ask the potential vendors to submit both their price estimate and the schedule for your review.


Cost of the final solution – what will be the estimate cost of the final hardware (e.g the target FPGA and the supporting circuitry). Many tend to focus on the design cost and not on the cost of the final product. If you plan to manufacture your product in millions than every dollar counts. You could choose a low-cost design services that will end up in a costly FPGA chip.


Communication – Do you need to communicate with the FPGA design services on a daily basis to resolve problems? needless to say that if it’s difficult to communicate with the vendor due to different time zone, language or culture – this will be a disadvantage.

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