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What are FPGAs?

A common request that we receive are regarding FPGAs. These are programmable semiconductor devices which are located around the matrix of Configurable Logic Blocks (CLBs) connected through programmable interconnects.

As opposed to their Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) counterparts, where the device is custom built for the particular design, FPGAs have been designed to be programmed to the desired application or functionality requirements. Although One-Time Programmable (OTP) FPGAs are available, the dominant type are SRAM-based which can be reprogrammed as the design evolves.

The capabilities of FPGAs allow designers to change their designs very late in the design cycle – in some cases even after the end product has been created and distributed. In addition, some FPGAs are designed to allow for field upgrades to be completed remotely, eliminating the costs associated with re-designing or manually updating electronic systems.

How Do FPGAs Work?

Here’s the general workflow when working with FPGAs:

  • You use a computer to describe a “logic function” that you want. You might draw a schematic, or create a text file describing the function, doesn’t matter.
  • You compile the “logic function” on your computer, using a software provided by the FPGA vendor. That creates a binary file that can be downloaded into the FPGA.
  • You connect a cable from your computer to the FPGA, and download the binary file to the FPGA.
  • That’s it! Your FPGA behaves according to your “logic function”.

Keep in mind that

  • You can download FPGAs as many time as you want – no limit – with different functionalities every time if you want. If you make a mistake in your design, just fix your “logic function”, re-compile and re-download it. No PCB, solder or component to change.
  • The designs can run much faster than if you were to design a board with discrete components, since everything runs within the FPGA, on its silicon die.
  • FPGAs lose their functionality when the power goes away (like RAM in a computer that loses its content). You have to re-download them when power goes back up to restore the functionality.

Who makes FPGAs?

There are (at least) four companies making FPGAs in the world. The first two (Xilinx and Altera) hold the bulk of the market.

  • Xilinx invented FPGAs and remain as the  biggest name in the FPGA world.
  • Altera are a close second and also a well known name.
  • Lattice and Actel are also renowned manufacturers in the FPGA market.

Further Information

If you would like any further information from the team at Softei, please contact us on either Tel. No. 01483 410 877, via e-mail at info@softei.com or via our Facebook page, and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

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