Field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) have a well-established position in every systems engineer’s toolbox. FPGAs have been used by engineers for many years to rapidly prototype systems or meet low volume preproduction requirements. When the communications- and network-driven Internet bubble took off at the turn of the millennium, demand skyrocketed for FPGAs in higher gate densities at any cost. Since then, FPGA requirements have changed dramatically. Today, as companies increasingly focus on the bill-of-materials bottom line, engineers look for silicon solutions that offer both low unit and low total system costs.

ASICs and structured arrays have traditionally offered the lowest unit cost of any silicon solution at high volumes. However, escalating time-to-market pressures, exponentially increasing nonrecurring engineering (NRE) charges, and the rising need to mitigate risk are preventing ASICs from addressing system designers’ needs. Instead, a new ASIC alternative, the value FPGA, has emerged to address engineers’ requirements for a technology capable of meeting today’s shrinking development cycles with a low-cost structure. This paper examines the needs of the value-based FPGA market and describes the various FPGA-based ASIC alternative solutions available.