Monthly Archives: May 2013

ASIC board

ASIC Prototyping – Should you purchase Boards or DIY?

With the increased complexity of SoC designs, high tapeout prices and shrinking time-to-market, ASIC Prototyping has become a key step in ASIC projects. FPGA development boards are being used more often to verify ASIC design, test hardware and software integration, and provide a proof of concept demonstration to potential customers and investors.

For those who are not familiar with the term ASIC Prototyping (which sometimes referred as: ASIC emulation board), it’s simply a PCB using a number of FPGAs that emulate the final ASIC functionality. This allows ASIC designers to upload their RTL code into the FPGAs and verify the ASIC functionality in real time at clock speed with higher test coverage. The FPGA is typically surrounded by peripherals, memories and connectors, allowing it to interface with the real world and at the same time provide designers with testing and debugging capabilities.

There are two different approaches for obtaining an ASIC prototyping board – build it yourself, or purchase a board from a vendor.  Of course there are advantages and disadvantages to each of these methods and it all depends on your needs, resources and budget.

First, consider that fabricating an emulation board in low volume can be quite expensive. There is nothing PCB manufacturing and assembly companies hate more than producing 7 development boards for your next month’s demonstration. With production lines optimized for high volume production, you simply have to pay a “penalty” price for disturbing production.

Schedule is another issue. Whilst off-the-shelf FPGA prototype boards can be delivered in 2-4 weeks, homemade boards would probably take around 2 months to produce.  For a relatively simple board you could assume: 3 weeks for hardware design, 2 weeks for layout, 2 weeks fabrication, 1 week assembly). Of course, if there’s a design bug, you’ll need a few more weeks. The advantage of course is that with the DIY method, you have maximum flexibility and can accommodate any design requirement.

Design resources are always a problem with ASIC prototyping. Is there anybody available in the company to take ownership for the task? If you’re no one is available, then a subcontractor should be hired, which will usually involve more time, and a larger budget.


ASIC Development Board Suppliers

Generally speaking, the market is divided into high performance boards, which are able to emulate very large SoC, and small, low cost boards aimed at the ASIC mixed signal market. The latter will most likely allow you to add the analog portion of the design as a daughter card to the main board.

Here are some of the key suppliers we are familiar with, which offer ASIC development boards in different sizes and configurations.  Obviously this is a partial list, so feel free to add additional names.


High End Boards




The Dini Group





Low end boards

Opal Kelly



Orange Tree Technologies



Is TSMC going to smash IC Packaging Houses?

Two years ago TSMC announced its plans to expand into IC  packaging services.  It is unclear how much these plans succeeded up till now, but it definitely seems that TSMC is now in an excellent position to take a big bite into the advanced IC packaging market, enter into direct competition with ASE, AMKOR, SPIL and STATSChipPac.

Why now?

We are recently hearing from many companies and semiconductor professional that 3D and wafer level package solutions are gaining popularity. The interest in high-end packaging is growing, as they resolve real problems.

The main driver behind 3D packaging technologies is enabling a higher level integration and faster data crunching for the networking market. Wafer level packaging is driven by the need to support the small size requirements of the mobile market. Both markets are growing, and TSMC seems to be have great chances in capturing these high-end segments.

how many bumps

IC package types can be categorized along a continuum with small, low cost package solutions, like QFN package types on one end, and complex, expensive 3D packaging solutions on the other end. TSMC will compete on the expensive type of packages, which may better contribute to its revenue stream.

Since TSMC is handling wafer production, wafer level packaging is a natural extension. The line between wafer production and wafer bumping has become very thin, as can be seen in the screen capture below from TSMC’s site, offering several packaging services already.

Many customers will find it convenient having one company handle their wafer production and assembly services under one roof. Together with their testing services, TSMC will become a one stop shop for many new customers.

tsmc website

Packaging houses are obviously not thrilled with TSMC entry into their zone, as they will have difficulties competing with TSMC on technology and quality. Most assembly houses will probably compete on price and will be forced to lower their gross margin in order to win projects. Packaging houses may have to collaborate more closely with non-competing-foundries such as GLOBALFOUNDRIES, SMIC, SAMSUNG and others, who are not stepping (yet) on their toes.