The Hitchhiker's Guide on How to Buy FPGA

FPGAs can be reprogrammed, have a shorter lead time, and have lower non-recurring engineering costs compared to other options; the main drawback is the price tag.

The human brain can make 100 trillion calculations per second. Why then do we so enjoy watching things in slow motion? Seductively cascading waterfalls, slow motion fireworks, soda and ice cubes tumbling into a tall glass. It's all an eye candy menagerie with mass appeal. Interestingly enough, something as universally appealing as tabletop high-speed videography is only made possible by something as esoteric as an FPGA. These scenes are captured using high-speed camera systems made possible by the use of FPGA. In cinema, the effect is used to give emphasis, creativity, or invite the viewer to watch a momentary time lapse showcasing minute details. Popular sequences include the path of water droplets, falling objects, or, as with Zombieland, looks of horror on an actor's face—the latter effect is usually used to depict parody. In order to produces these fluid scenes, the high-speed cameras will need to operate at frame rates that range up to 250000 fps.

FPGAs are also used in other end markets. For instance, in the automotive industry, FPGAs are one of the main components used to design safety features. They play a significant role in processing images, detecting persons and signs, and protecting passengers using lane departure warnings, blind spot monitoring, and traffic jam assistance.

Compared to ASICs and CPLDs, FPGAs are more attractive because they can be reprogrammed, have a shorter lead time, and have lower non-recurring engineering costs.

The main drawback is the price tag.

Value + PriceHow do you buy FPGA for a fraction of the franchised price tag?

This is a dilemma that you face with every new project. It doesn't matter if you are working in your company's purchasing department or if you are a crytocurrency enthusiast constrained by a budget. The goal is to purchase FPGAs for the lowest available price.

Unfortunately, many FPGA buyers face two problems:

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

  2. Pricing: Some buyers are only interested in purchasing lower quantity FPGA for prototyping and R&D. However, franchised distributors of FPGA 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.

One option is to purchase parts from an unlimited franchised distributor of FPGA. Unlike a traditional franchised distributor who is typically limited to distribute products they are franchised for, an unlimited franchised distributor is franchised for some lines but still has the ability to sell any other manufacturers. These companies are not bound to the same pricing schemes as the traditional franchised distributors and can often offer authentic parts for far below the pricing that other distributors offer. Most parts are excess from companies that purchase in large volume at the lower price then have surplus when their project is completed. If you are in the market for FPGA, be sure to check out an unlimited franchised distributor's stock list and availability.

Some things to look out for

While the price may sound enticing, some consumers are reluctant to purchase from non-traditional franchised distributors. Fortunately, there are several features that reveal the company's credibility.

  1. Certifications: Be on the watch for basic certifications, including ERAI, D&B listed, and JEDEC certified. Other valuable criteria include Inc 500|5000 listings. 

  2. Industry knowledge: Reputable vendors should be franchised for some production lines. If a manufacturer has trusted the company with the marketing and distribution of their product, it shows that the company has clout within the electronics industry.

  3. Realistic quantities: Make sure that the company does not list a generic quantity. If the franchised price is a steep figure, the manufacturers may not produce surplus quantities. You should avoid any company advertising excessive quantities.

  4. Part specifications: Part specifications: FPGA family codes and product specifications should be available, allowing the buyer to gain more information about the part.

If you buy FPGA from an unlimited franchised distributor, your actual savings may be up to 46% off the franchised retail price.

FPG Buyers Guide for NewbiesYou can start with a simple Google search. A smart technique is to avoid adwords and focus on organic results. If a web page has a high organic rank, it indicates that google places a higher value on its content. High organic rank is based on the merit of the information as opposed to just paying to show up first.

Purchasing FPGA from an unlimited franchised distributor enables you to avoid long lead times and obtain FPGA at a substantial discount, even for R&D and other low-volume quantity requirements. Before completing the purchase order, make sure you establish your supplier's credibility and foothold in the electronic components industry.

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