What is an FPGA?

It is an acronym for Field Programmable Gate Array. It is a semiconductor IC where a large majority of the electrical functionality inside the device can be changed; changed by the design engineer, changed during the PCB assembly process, or even changed after the equipment has been shipped to customers out in the ‘field’.

FPGAs provide benefits to designers of many types of electronic equipment, ranging from smart energy grids, aircraft navigation, automotive driver’s assistance, medical ultrasounds and data center search engines – just to name a few. 

Read the free ebook FPGAs for Dummies to increase your understanding of FPGAs or check out other resources in ‘Getting Started’ to learn how to use/design with FPGAs.

Customer Benefits by Using FPGAs

Benefit

Details

Flexibility
  • FPGA functionality can change upon every power up of the device. So, when a design engineer wants to make a change, they can simply download a new configuration file into the device and try out the change.
  • Often, changes can be made to the FPGA without making costly PC board changes.
  • ASSPs and ASICs have fixed hardware functionality that can’t be changed without great cost and time.
Acceleration

Get products to market quicker and/or increase your system performance.

 

  • FPGA devices are sold “off the shelf” vs. ASICs (which require manufacturing cycles taking many months).
  • Because of FPGA flexibility, OEMs can ship systems as soon as the design is working and tested.
  • FPGAs provide off-load and acceleration functions to CPUs, effectively speeding up the entire system performance.  
Integration

Today’s FPGAs include on-die processors, transceiver I/O’s at 28 Gbps (or faster), RAM blocks, DSP engines, and more. More functions within the FPGA mean fewer devices on the circuit board, increasing reliability by reducing the number of device failures.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
  • While ASICs may cost less per unit than an equivalent FPGA, building them requires a non-recurring expense (NRE), expensive software tools, specialized design teams, and long manufacturing cycles.
  • Altera FPGAs support long life-cycles (15-years or more), avoiding the cost of redesigning and requalifying OEM production equipment if one of the electronic devices on-board goes End of Life (EOL).
  • FPGAs reduce risk, allowing prototype systems to ship to customers for field trials, while still providing the ability to make changes quickly before ramping to volume production.