What is an FPGA?

The field-programmable gate array (FPGA) is a semiconductor device that can be programmed after manufacturing. Instead of being restricted to any predetermined hardware function, an FPGA allows you to program product features and functions, adapt to new standards, and reconfigure hardware for specific applications even after the product has been installed in the field—hence the name "field-programmable". You can use an FPGA to implement any logical function that an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) could perform, but the ability to update the functionality after shipping offers advantages for many applications.

Unlike previous generation FPGAs using I/Os with programmable logic and interconnects, today's FPGAs consist of various mixes of configurable embedded SRAM, high-speed transceivers, high-speed I/Os, logic blocks, and routing. Specifically, an FPGA contains programmable logic components called logic elements (LEs) and a hierarchy of reconfigurable interconnects that allow the LEs to be physically connected. You can configure LEs to perform complex combinational functions, or merely simple logic gates like AND and XOR. In most FPGAs, the logic blocks also include memory elements, which may be simple flipflops or more complete blocks of memory.

As FPGAs continue to evolve, the devices have become more integrated. Hard intellectual property (IP) blocks built into the FPGA fabric provide rich functions while lowering power and cost and freeing up logic resources for product differentiation. Newer FPGA families are being developed with hard embedded processors, transforming the devices into systems on a chip (SoC).

Compared to ASICs or ASSPs, FPGAs offer many design advantages, including:

  • Rapid prototyping
  • Shorter time to market
  • The ability to re-program in the field for debugging
  • Lower NRE costs
  • Long product life cycle to mitigate obsolescence risk

Altera FPGAs

Altera offers customers a broad spectrum of FPGAs geared towards diverse markets and applications. Table 1 shows our main FPGA series.

Table 1. Altera FPGA Series

Cyclone FPGAs Arria FPGAs Stratix FPGAs

Cyclone® series FPGAs are the industry's lowest cost, lowest power FPGAs, ideal for high-volume, cost-sensitive applications.

Use a Cyclone series FPGA alone, as a digital signal processor, or as a cost-effective embedded processing solution. Cyclone series FPGAs offer a wide range of density, memory, embedded multiplier, and packaging options. Newer families include integrated transceiver options (at data rates up to 5G).


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Arria® series FPGA provide an optimal balance of performance, power, and price for mid-range transceiver-based applications. You'll find a rich feature set of functions (memory, logic, and DSP) combined with superior signal integrity in the devices.

Arria series FPGAs feature on-chip transceivers that allow you to integrate more functions and maximize system bandwidth (at data rates up to 10G).


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Stratix® series FPGAs are the industry's highest bandwidth, highest density FPGAs, ideal for high-end applications. Newer families come with integrated transceiver options (at data rates up to 28G).

Stratix series FPGAs simplify the challenges of signal integrity by providing transceivers with jitter characteristics. Features such as Programmable Power Technology keep total power in check.


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Solutions for Many Market Segments and Applications

An Altera® Cyclone, Arria, and Stratix FPGA meets many of the requirements necessary for your next-generation FPGA design. These FPGAs provide market solutions and are a key element in designing for the following end market and application areas, as shown in Table 2.