FPGA Technology

What is FPGA Technology?

FPGA technology is a silicon chip that configured differently than traditional processing chips. FPGA stands for (Field Programmable Gate Array), which means the silicone chip is designed to allow people in the “field” to program the chip after it is purchased. FPGAs designs are more complex than traditional silicon chips, as they are designed using Hardware Description Language (HDL).

FPGA History

Altera and Xilinx are the two manufacturers of FPGAs. Altera FPGA technology used in many instances throughout the industry. Altera, founded in 1983 and Altera FPGA technology first programmable chip was the EP300

FPGAs designed with an array of logical blocks. The logical blocks are mostly where the configuration is allowed to take place, making them customizable to perform more complex tasks. The logical blocks are designed to be changed or programmed and can be used to perform various functions in many areas. These block arrays can be wired together to create logical gates, manage memory elements and rational functions.

For example, a field programmable gate array can be configured to logically identify changes in an external device and trigger another action externally. Let’s say you have an external thermometer that you want to control the speed of a fan or cooling unit. The FPGA allows you to hardwire the reading from the thermostat, send that reading to the FPGA logic block arrays, that will trigger a fan or cooling unit to increase or decrease its output. What makes FPGA so powerful and revolutionary is the block arrays on one chip are dedicated to performing one task. Each of the blocks can all simultaneously be performing its responsibility, creating a real parallel processing system on one silicon chip.

Processor-Based System

A processor-based system is a central processing unit (CPU) system we are more familiar. Unlike the field programmable gate array chip, where the configuration or managing of the tasks is done on the chip by the hardware configuration, the operating systems do the work. As you may know, CPU is not smart, and they have no logic, they are just fast workers, and the brains of the system is the operating system. When tasks are sent to the CPU to be processed, the operating systems control what duties are assigned and given to the CPU to execute and in what order.

Where are FPGAs used?

FPGAs technology is used in conjunction with traditional CPU or processor-based systems. In the case of using SoCs (system of chips) to perform highly customizable tasks, an FPGA can be attached to a traditional CPU and allow for more flexibility on how tasks are performed by using the logic array of blocks on the FPGA chips. FPGAs are used in hardware designed for network security and data centers. FPGA technology also allows engineers to use SoCs to create customizable interfaces for a CPU to perform. FPGA are highly used in various signal processing systems, where a signal is sent and based on that signal, a task is completed. These signal processing systems can be analog or digital.

Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) Raise in Popularity

The traditional processing technology is typically designed to perform a specific task as fast as possible; these can be CPU (Central Processing Units), GPU (Graphics Processing Units), and DSP (Digital Signal Processors). The problem with these processing systems is they are limited on power consumption and are limited to task execution. FPGA system is a hardware-based solution that usually can allow the system to be more efficient in task execution and energy consumption. The FPGA chips are high hardware-based systems to make the performance of task faster and more customizable, but they require a very complex environment or ecosystem to perform.

FPGAs are becoming popular because they are much efficient in the way tasks are executed, and due to the fact, the logic blocks are part of the hardware, they can run task simultaneously with the need to compete for resources (power, memory, etc.) The parallel nature of the design of the FPGA allows each logic block to be a dedicate area on the chip itself and each. FPGA are also becoming popular because hardware manufacturers can cut the time to market process when introducing a product. The block arrays on the chip make it easier for hardware engineers to perform rapid prototyping and allows them to test a concept without having to implement the long task of fabrication of specific application integrated circuits. The change in how FPGAs are manufactured and implemented can cut the processes of getting devices ready for the market from weeks to a few hours.

Since the FPGAs are programmable in the field, they don’t require the time-consuming work of an engineer as with traditional ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits). Also, FPGA can be customized to allow them to continue to work with complex systems as the logic blocks can be customized and changed to meet the needs of various software changes. The popularity of FPGA technology will continue to increase as our tools continue to change and increase and require more efficient use of resources.

One of the major factors to attribute to the increase in popularity of FPGA technology is they bring application specific integrated circuits (ASIC) and processor-based system together and allows engineers to take the good from both and use FPGA technology as a commonality platform, which optimizes the entire process.

FPGA Performance

Field programmable gate array technology allows for a drastic increase in performance. Since the silicon chip itself is designed to enable dependable parallel computing, tasks can be simultaneously performed and eliminate the slower less efficient process of sequential task execution.

FPGA Time to the Market

The FPGA chips can cut the time to market by weeks because it has so much flexibility and allows for rapid prototyping. Unlike traditional ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) long process of fabrication, FPGA can make a long turn around times a thing of the past.


FPGA logical blocks allow the end user to have a customized set of tools and using ASIC, and this can be very expensive when dealing with mass production of products. FPGA technology cuts long lead times cost of assembly.


The design of FPGA allows for upgrades as technology and requirements increase. Traditional ASIC based system would require a complete redesign, whereas with FPGAs would have to be reprogrammed.