COMP_ENG 392: VLSI Systems Design Projects



COMP_ENG 355 or COMP_ENG 391


Teams of 2-4 students collaborate on large real-world VSLI design projects, focusing on either FPGA system-on-chip embedded applications or ASIC layouts. Previous student project applications include: IoT, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Computer Vision, Audio/Video media, Communications, Robotics, Gaming, and much more. Projects will cover the full hardware & software development cycle, including design specification, implementation, and verification. Emphasis is placed on design practice, underlying algorithms, and optimizations for speed, area, and power.



LOCATION: Zoom or CG50 Lab, Tech, Evanston campus

COURSE INSTRUCTOR: David C. Zaretsky (

COURSE GOALS: When a student completes this course, s/he should be able to:

  • Integrate into a group environment to pursue technical goals
  • Present technical material in both oral and written goals
  • Plan a VSLI design project from specification to implementation
  • Improve software & hardware coding using VHDL, Verilog or System Verilog
  • Implement design tradeoffs and optimizations to balance various design goals
  • Effectively manage their time on complex projects
  • Use industry tools to design, implement, and verify their applications

LABORATORY USAGE: All students will pursue a complex, group engineering design project, focused around VSLI/CAD applications. Students will typically require the use of VSLI and CAD tools on Unix or PC platforms. ASIC projects will primarily focus around the Cadence Virtuoso tool suite, available in the Wilkinson lab. FPGA projects will utilize the Intel FPGA tool suite and the Mentor Graphics tools, available to download on their laptops or in the CG50 lab. Altera DE2 and DE10-Nano boards are available for FPGA projects, along with various peripherals available in CG50.

GRADES: Grading is based upon the following factors

  • Project Plan
    • Presentation
    • Report
  • Mid-Quarter Report
    • Presentation
    • Progress Report
    • Design Architecture
    • Design Simulation & Verification
  • Final Report
    • Design Architecture
    • Demo
    • Presentation
    • Final Report
  • Teams
    • Attendance & Participation
    • Weekly check-ins / discussions
    • Technical competency
    • Proficiency in collaboration, as measured by overall project integration and success

Note that the exact grading criteria must be tailored to the specific projects chosen, and thus cannot be set for the course as a whole.

ABET CONTENT CATEGORY: 100% Engineering (Design component).

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: Students in this course are required to comply with the policies found in the booklet, "Academic Integrity at Northwestern University: A Basic Guide." All papers submitted for credit in this course must be submitted electronically unless otherwise instructed by the professor. Your written work may be tested for plagiarized content. 

ACCESSIBILITY: Northwestern University is committed to providing the most accessible learning environment as possible for students with disabilities. Should you anticipate or experience disability-related barriers in the academic setting, please contact AccessibleNU to move forward with the university's established process (; 847-467-5530). If you already have established accommodations with AccessibleNU, please let me know as soon as possible, preferably within the first two weeks of the term, so we can work together to implement your disability accommodations. Disability information, including academic accommodations, is confidential under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

CLASS RECORDINGS: This class or portions of this class will be recorded by the instructor for educational purposes and available to the class during the quarter. Your instructor will communicate how you can access the recordings. Portions of the course that contain images, questions, or commentary/discussion by students will be edited out of any recordings that are saved beyond the current term.

PROHIBITION OF CLASS RECORDINGS BY STUDENTS: Unauthorized student recording of classroom or other academic activities (including advising sessions or office hours) is prohibited. Unauthorized recording is unethical and may also be a violation of University policy and state law. Students requesting the use of assistive technology as an accommodation should contact AccessibleNU. Unauthorized use of classroom recordings-including distributing or posting them-is also prohibited. Under the University's Copyright Policy, faculty own the copyright to instructional materials-including those resources created specifically for the purposes of instruction, such as syllabi, lectures and lecture notes, and presentations. Students cannot copy, reproduce, display, or distribute these materials. Students who engage in unauthorized recording, unauthorized use of a recording, or unauthorized distribution of instructional materials will be referred to the appropriate University office for follow-up.

COVID-19 TESTING COMPLIANCE: To ensure the health of our community, Northwestern University currently requires students who come to campus or interact with the campus community in person regularly to be tested for COVID-19 routinely. Students must keep the Community Interaction Survey in CAESAR up-to-date, which is the method by which students communicate such plans to the University. Community Interaction Survey status, enrollment in classes with face-to-face meetings, and/or living in an on-campus residence dictate the frequency with which students must be tested.

Students who fail to comply with COVID-19 testing or misrepresent their status in the Community Interaction Survey may face summary disciplinary action, including being restricted from campus or suspended.

COVID-19 CLASSROOM EXPECTATIONS STATEMENT: Students, faculty, and staff must comply with University expectations regarding appropriate classroom behavior, including those outlined below and in the COVID-19 Code of Conduct. With respect to classroom procedures, this includes:

  • Policies regarding masking and social distancing evolve as the public health situation changes. Students are responsible for understanding and complying with current masking, testing, Symptom Tracking, and social distancing requirements.
  • In some classes, masking and/or social distancing may be required as a result of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation for the instructor or a student in the class even when not generally required on campus. In such cases, the instructor will notify the class.
  • No food is allowed inside classrooms. Drinks are permitted, but please keep your face covering on and use a straw.
  • Faculty may assign seats in some classes to help facilitate contact tracing in the event that a student tests positive for COVID-19. Students must sit in their assigned seats.

If a student fails to comply with the COVID-19 Code of Conduct or other University expectations related to COVID-19, the instructor may ask the student to leave the class. The instructor is asked to report the incident to the Office of Community Standards for additional follow-up.

EXCEPTIONS TO CLASS MODALITY: Class sessions for this course will occur in person. Individual students will not be granted permission to attend remotely except as the result of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation as determined by AccessibleNU.

SUPPORT FOR WELLNESS & MENTAL HEALTH: Northwestern University is committed to supporting the wellness of our students. Student Affairs has multiple resources to support student wellness and mental health. If you are feeling distressed or overwhelmed, please reach out for help. Students can access confidential resources through the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL) and the Center for Awareness, Response and Education (CARE).

TITLE IX AND SEXUAL MISCONDUCT STATEMENT: Northwestern University is committed to fostering an environment where students are safe and free from sexual misconduct. Confidential resources are available to those who have experienced sexual misconduct. Faculty, instructors, and TAs are not confidential resources and are required to report incidents of sexual misconduct, whether discussed in your assignments or in person, to the Office of Equity, which can provide information about resources and options. Students who have experienced sexual misconduct are encouraged to talk with someone to get support. For more information, including how to request interim protective measures and academic accommodations for file a complaint, see the Get Help page on Northwestern's Sexual Misconduct Respose and Prevention site.