Tech 101 From Symmetry Electronics: FPGA
A field-programmable gate array (FPGA) is an integrated circuit made to be configured by an engineer after manufacturing. The FPGA configuration is generally specified using a hardware description language (HDL), similar to that used for an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC).
FPGAs allow engineers to create mobile products while staying within cost, power, size and schedule targets. These devices allow engineers to rapidly customize solutions with off-the-shelf chips. This means maximum product differentiation with minimum cost and effort.
An FPGA can be used to solve any problem which is computable. This is trivially proven by the fact FPGA can be used to implement a soft microprocessor. Their advantage lies in that they are sometimes significantly faster for some applications because of their parallel nature and optimality in terms of the number of gates used for a certain process.
FPGAs originally began as competitors to CPLDs to implement glue logic for PCBs. As their size, capabilities, and speed increased, they took over additional functions to the point where some are now marketed as full systems on chips (SoC). Particularly with the introduction of dedicated multipliers into FPGA architectures in the late 1990s, applications which had traditionally been the sole reserve of DSPs began to incorporate FPGAs instead.
Another trend in the use of FPGAs is hardware acceleration, where one can use the FPGA to accelerate certain parts of an algorithm and share part of the computation between the FPGA and a generic processor.
Traditionally, FPGAs have been reserved for specific vertical applications where the volume of production is small. For these low-volume applications, the premium that companies pay in hardware costs per unit for a programmable chip is more affordable than the development resources spent on creating an ASIC for a low-volume application. Today, new cost and performance dynamics have broadened the range of viable applications.
Featured FPGA Products:
The iCE40 family of ultra-low power, non-volatile FPGAs has five devices with densities ranging from 384 to 7680
The Lattice Semiconductor iCE65 programmable logic family is specifically designed to deliver the lowest static and dynamic power consumption of any comparable CPLD or FPGA device.
Lattice iCE40 MobileFPGA Family is a tablet-targeted series optimized for high performance.
The ECP5™ Versa Development Board allows designers to investigate and experiment with the features of the ECP5 Field-Programmable Gate Array.
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