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We're currently in the process of choosing an FPGA for our new gizmo. Our project will have a non-negligible cost and should last us for a long time.

Now, with each new FPGA of a particular line (say, Xilinx Virtex) being more powerful than its predecessors (the Virtex 7 vs. the Virtx 6 vs. the Virtex 5 etc), and since we'd like to choose an FPGA which is as powerful as possible to allow for future enhancements, we're tempted to choose the latest-and-greatest chip that we can get.

On the other hand, new chips and their toolchains tend to have their teething problems, and we certainly don't want to have any hassle from that side.

What's your rule of thunb - how old must an FPGA be so that it can be considered mature enough for a project? Or, how else would you gauge the fitness of an FPGA? By numbers of chips sold, or by the number of high-wire projects that use it?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Usually the software support is "mature enough" right about the time they start sending obsolescence notices... \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Aug 21 '12 at 18:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ My experience is that vendor "X" is much better at getting the bugs out of the software earlier in the product lifetime, and usually their newest product is "more powerful"; but vendor "A" is much better about keeping products in production for more years (like they still have products available that were released in the mid-90's). So there is a big tradeoff between your requirements. \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Aug 21 '12 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ "X" still has some ancient parts in production too. \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Thompson Aug 22 '12 at 11:50
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  1. Ask your FPGA vendor's distributor or FAE.
  2. Do you need the latest? If an older part is big and fast enough, don't use the newer ones.
  3. If you need to sign an NDA or get beta software, the part isn't mature enough.
  4. Is the new chip cheaper or lower power? If not, consider sticking with the old part.
  5. If the full line of chips (say Virtex 7) is out, it is probably mature enough. If they only have certain sizes an packages, it is still relatively new.
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    \$\begingroup\$ On "Ask your FAE", I never expect a straight answer from an FAE or salesperson when the question is "How long until this product goes obsolete." From an honest salesperson the answer is always "We haven't issued any PCN yet." From a dishonest salesperson the answer is always "At least 15 years" (or whatever they think you want to hear). \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Aug 21 '12 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have heard valid data for obsolescence. For parts that have a stated life cycle, e.g. Intel and Freescale embedded processors, the manufacturer has stated, documented dates. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Carlton Aug 21 '12 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've seen this king of information from FPGA vendors too, but only under NDA, and mainly for products that are already released, whereas normally we were doing our new designs on products that were in the "engineering sample" stage. \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Aug 21 '12 at 19:13

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