Brussels / 30 & 31 January 2016


Digital Hardware Design: Why is it still so hard?

Digital hardware design, or “HDL programming,” is growing in popularity with the widespread availability of FPGA platforms. Yet, the ecosystem around it needs some work. Tooling, the availability of code, licensing and a scattered community make it hard to get started. In this talk, we'll look at the situation today, and where things are going. As newcomer you'll leave the talk with all you need to know to start an FPGA design. And as experienced developer you will get an update on what's going on around you. Because digital hardware design doesn't need to be hard.

Build your own processor! Improve your graphics chip! Sounds far fetched? Actually, it does not need to be.

In the free software world, we have come to enjoy an ecosystem of excellent code to build on, production-quality libraries, reliable tools, and a healthy and helpful community. Software development has become available to the masses.

Getting started in digital hardware design, a.k.a. “writing code that describes how a chip works”, is not as easy yet. Trouble already starts with the question “What do you want to do with your design?” Producing a chip still is rather expensive, and looking at the product of long nights of work in slow-motion simulations it not terribly rewarding. Here FPGAs, “reprogrammable chips,” have come to rescue. With eval boards starting at under $100 and Intel incorporating FPGAs into their processors, hardware access has become easier. With this problem out of the way, we can now focus on the ecosystem of free and open source digital hardware design.

Join me for a look at code, tools, licensing, and the community. What's already there? What can we take from the software world? And where is all this going? All to answer the ultimate question: when will we be able to create our own processor?


Photo of Philipp Wagner Philipp Wagner