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3 Simple Tips for your first Prototype Build

Posted by Nadeesha Thewarapperuma

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Aug 22, 2016 9:00:00 AM

xilinx fpga

1) Real estate

When building your prototype, these are some factors you'll have to deal with:

  • The dimensions of your circuit board (the space you'll have available to you).
  • The funding on hand (how much money you can spend on the build).

Smaller chips cost more and space on a PCB is extremely limited. At some point, you'll have to make a trade-off between chip size and PCB cost.


2) Altera or Xilinx FPGA?

While there are other FPGA manufacturers, Altera and Xilinx are the two companies that really matter. Collectively, Altera and Xilinx have captured the majority of the market share. Who matters or who's ahead really depends on when they were able to churn out the latest FPGA technology. When it comes to process nodes, Altera was the first to come up with 40/45 nm so they were able to gain the majority market share for the duration. Xilinx was then first to release 28 nm and 20 nm so they were able to gain the majority market share in each of these instances. At 28 nm, Xilinx left its original fabrication partner, UMC,  to share TSMC with Altera FPGA. The same thing happened at 20 nm. Altera's recent decision to leave TSMC and partner with Intel will change things up again.

Again, there really are no major differences between the two companies. Technical specifications and price are pretty much the same.

What are your thoughts? Why are you a fan of one line over the other? Let us know below.

3) Troubleshooting

When a customer has trouble with their circuit board, they'll point fingers at the easiest target. Often it's the biggest and most expensive thing on their board: an FPGA. That's when they'll contact the vendor who sold them the part. In cases like this, we usually work with an exclusive test house to pin-point the problem on the circuit board. In every case we've dealt with - only two, so far, the FPGA was not at fault but because it is the biggest investment, the blame is usually shoved onto it.



In the first case, a capacitor was inserted in place of a resistor and the circuit board failed to function.

In the second case, the FPGA was not stored properly. FPGA have certain moisture sensitivity levels and cannot be left out in the open.

In both instances, we worked with the end-user to satisfactorily resolve the problem.

In the first case, the cost of the testing was borne by EarthTron and the problem was immediately identified.

In the second case, we supplied a second, brand-new part. Before the part was shipped out, we had it successfully tested a test house. This was so the customer would have the assurance we were providing them with a high-quality, OEM excess component.


Unfortunately, when it comes to a prototype build, engineers face two problems:

  1. Long lead-times: Typically, if the majors allow you to buy from them you could be faced with a 2-3 month lead-time before you will see your parts.

  2. Pricing:  Franchised distributors of Altera and Xilinx parts - such as Avnet and Digikey - are compelled to sell using a tiered pricing system, meaning that these customers receive no discount whatsoever.

The large volume buyers get massive discounts on their FPGA. The lower volume users like those buying for FPGA projects, R&D, and NPI buyers are left paying top dollar and waiting for long lead-times.

 EarthTron can offer you competitive pricing for any prototype RFQ you have on hand. 

Our FPGA are sourced from high-volume OEMs and are at least 15% off franchised pricing and guaranteed for fit, form and function.

To see if your part is available, check out our FPGA index page.
Access Our Special FPGA Price ListEarthTron provides customers with services not available from a Traditional Franchised Distributor. We give you the convenience of only having to go to one company for ALL of your electronic parts and components needs.

EarthTron, located in Portsmouth, NH, is an Inc.500|5000 company.



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Topics: FPGA

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