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Hardware Programming vs. Software Programming Unveiled

ByMithila kumanjana

Jan 21, 2024
Hardware Programming vs. Software Programming

Hardware programming involves creating your own physical structure to execute tasks, such as designing your TV remote control. Software programming, on the other hand, entails utilizing pre-built physical components and injecting your logic into the memory of those components, like ROM, hard drive, and RAM.

Most of us are familiar with software programming languages such as Java, Python, C++, and Arduino. When considering hardware programming, it is relatively uncommon and demands additional hardware requirements, such as FPGA boards. On the software side, you merely alter the logic levels of storage devices like your SSD hard drive or ROM. In comparison to hardware programming, where physical changes to memory or hardware devices can be made, software programming primarily involves modifications in memory or hard devices.

Hardware programming

Verilog and VHDL are the primary hardware programming languages. Vivado serves as the software platform, comparable to VSCode or PyCharm in software programming.

What are the physical changes in doing Hardware programming?

Basically, there are two types of hardware designs used in the real world (ASIC, and FPGA). This implies the implementation of your hardware program. First, you can simulate your hardware design on a computer, and then in the implementation phase, you have to choose an option.

Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) involves creating physical logic (Metal–Oxide–Semiconductor) using different techniques such as acid baths, photolithography, furnace annealing, ion implantation, and metallic sputter deposition.

Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) implies that logics are already built physically. When implementing our hardware programming, the required logics are chosen automatically.

Logic gates like OR and AND are already created inside the FPGA, and we select the necessary requirements while excluding unused logic. On the ASIC side, we only create the required logic gates physically, and then we can’t reuse that ASIC device for other tasks.

Hardware programming

Why do we need hardware programming?

Customize electronic devices for specific tasks (ASIC).

For example, in a TV remote, we only need to transmit some kind of wireless wave to our TV. Then, definitely, the signal regeneration and signal transmission should be there. Also, we know all the functions; if we click the power button on the remote, we should send some characters, most of the time using ASCII values.

This is the only task required for the remote. We don’t need reprogrammable requirements for the TV remote. Then, considering inputs, outputs, and power requirements, we can create our own logic to execute all the tasks. Creating customized electronic devices is a main requirement of hardware programming.

Achieve a reduction in price and size.

For example, we can create our own remote control using ESP32. However, ESP32 requires more power and space than a usual remote control, and some features are not used. Most of the time, the input count may not be sufficient for our requirements, leading us to use more lines of code to execute each task. Consequently, our final design will be larger, and we will have to pay for unused functions like Wi-Fi capability in ESP32.

By using hardware programming, we can create only what is necessary in a small silicon-sized chip. We can define the input and output counts, ultimately reducing the price and size of the production through hardware programming.

Attain high speed.

Actually, after making our own hardware, the delay or latency can be minimized to approximately zero. That means you create an input side and an output side with intermediate logic. For example, if you press the power button, the input impulses reach a specific input point, and we already have a physical plan for what actions to take until the outputs such as creating a character, converting that character into a signal, and mixing it with the carrier signal before transmitting. All tasks execute simultaneously.

There is no delay like regular microprocessor or microcontroller systems, with a minimum of software logic. For example, if you use ESP32, you have to execute each task using microprocessor architecture line by line. You can use RTOS to reduce the execution time of each task. The speed of the task depends on the oscillator of the microprocessor. However, in hardware programming tasks, there is no latency, mostly depending on material-based latency. There is no waiting time until executing another logic.

Therefore, hardware programming is required for high-speed execution.(High-speed signal processing like cameras.)

High durability and security.

For example, software-based logic can easily be erased using other kinds of electromagnetic waves (Electromagnetic Pulses (EMP), Electrostatic Discharge (ESD), Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR), and Electromagnetic Disturbances). Therefore, it is challenging to use devices with software-based logic in harsh environments such as labs and aircraft.

(Note: Most devices have covert resistance, but the vulnerability of software-based devices is very high compared to ASIC devices.)

If we consider high-security areas like defense, banks, and the military, for example, using software-based encryption methods poses a vulnerability. Third-party individuals can potentially observe the encryption method and key using methods such as side-channel attacks. However, if we use a specific item solely for encryption, the encryption occurs in parallel and simultaneously. There is no way for a third party to observe how the encryption is progressing.

On the other hand, we can execute multiple security layers by using hardware logic in a minimum time duration.

That is why we need hardwear programming.

What is the manufacturing process of a custom hardware device?

Select the hardware and consider the requirements.

If you want to create a data acquisition module for your specific task using hardware programming, you have to consider the inputs, outputs, input voltages, sampling rate, and resolution. If you use an FPGA board, you can conduct many trials multiple times. After confirming that our hardware design works well, we can then move into ASIC. In the traditional way of data acquisition for regular projects, external or internal ADCs (such as ADS1115, ADS1298…) are used, along with microprocessors like Arduino, ESP32, or others. The sampling rate (50Hz, 128Hz, 256Hz, …) and resolution (8-bit, 16-bit, 24-bit) are defined by the manufacturer.

Additionally, how you get that data to your device, such as the protocol used (I2C, SPI, or USART), and creating your own signal amplification or noise reduction methods are crucial considerations.

Creating hardware logic

In hardware programming, you can use software like Vivado to create your own hardware logics. Many pre-defined hardware programs are available on the internet. You can design both the software-based logic and the hardware-based logic. Most of the FPGA boards come with an ARM processor inside the board.

Simulation and Implementation

Then, after creating your software and hardware logic, you can simulate your design. You can use testbench codes to test your project. By testing in multiple ways, your design can be implemented in a real physical device, such as ZedBoard or Zynq Board.


Then, you can send your design to a chip manufacturer to create your own design. Mostly, these manufacturers don’t create only one chip, and you will have to manufacture multiple chips.

Create custom PCB

Then, after the design arrives at your location, you have to create your PCB for greater durability and to achieve good quality.

Final product

Finally, you can create packaging. This means you can utilize 3D printing to incorporate your complete data acquisition or other project into the design of the 3D print.

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