Harding certainly doesn't discount the value of FPGAs. (His company has been involved in building several, including the latest FPGA from startup Achronix).
FPGAs are critical for prototyping and powering lower volume applications, Harding says. And despite all of the hype over an ongoing ASIC versus FPGA tug of war, Harding says that in 80 percent of cases the choice between which type of device to use in a given application is a no-brainer. It's the other 20 percent of cases where FPGAs and ASICs butt heads, he says.
Harding, a former CEO of EDA vendor Cadence Design Systems who founded eSilicon 10 years ago, cites the comparatively hefty marketing communications budgets of FPGA vendors for creating the impression that FPGAs and ASICs are going toe-to-toe across a much larger swatch of applications than they actually are. "That's the only difference between where FPGAs are and where they are perceived to be," Harding said.
For the record, Harding doesn't dispute widely disseminated data on the declining number of ASIC design starts. But he makes the case that more ASICs are being integrated into systems-on-a-chip. What may have been four separate ASIC designs years ago may now be one very large ASIC. While the total number of ASIC design starts is on the decline, the number of transistors and value of current ASIC designs remain on the rise, according to Harding.