The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology encouraged the publication of works that investigate and evaluate the performances of the second round SHA-3 candidates. Besides the hardware characterization of the 14 candidate algorithms, the main goal of this paper is the description of a reliable methodology to efficiently characterize and compare VLSI circuits of cryptographic primitives. We took the opportunity to apply it on the ongoing SHA-3 competition. To this end, we implemented several architectures in a 90 nm CMOS technology, targeting high- and moderate-speed constraints separately. Thanks to this analysis, we were able to present a complete benchmark of the achieved post-layout results of the circuits.