Hardware design is complicated process. Once the functional description is laid out describing the different instructions and feature to be included in a unit, the actual design of the hardware begins. Often courses which focus on this subject area will often only explore specific or limited aspects of the entire process.
There are two main significant areas of hardware design. This first step includes the register transfer design, deriving the different necessary components for the hardware and mapping out the connections all on-paper or the digital equivalent thereof, i.e. CAD design. This is a functional breakdown of the device into a design that can complete the necessary functions.
This however only lays out the design of the hardware without any implementation. Without any further steps, the designer never really knows whether or not the device will work. Courses however which will focus on covering the implementation studies the different methods for building the hardware and testing into a working, functional, implementation.
Academic courses which study hardware design will typically restrict the course-work to include either on-paper register transfer design or the implementation aspects, simply because the entire process is quite lengthily. On-paper design usually encompasses only a small subset of computer components, typically strictly the CPU, without actually implementing any of the devices. The implementation based courses often do not go through the necessary on-paper design steps.
In the purpose of project is to being with a feature description of a complete unit, including instruction set, instruction cycle times, and architecture requirements, and follow the design and implementation through from the beginnings of hardware design all the way to the actual implementation, testing, and simulation. The project also analyses each step along the way, critiquing each design step and method.