Why you should use FPGAs in your Embedded Processing applications

The field-programmable gate array, shortened to FPGA, is an IC that contains digital reprogrammable circuitry that can be programmed by the end user to suit their own application. FPGAs devices are manufactured by Altera, which was acquired by the giant microprocessor manufacturer, Intel. This is why you encounter the name Altera FPGA.

The FPGA is an array of interconnected configurable logic blocks that can be wired together in different patterns. There are memory elements in the logic blocks of most FPGAs. The FPGA works according to the manner in which the inter-wiring is configured making it a versatile IC. The versatility makes Altera FPGAs a useful component in embedded systems. With that in mind, soft-core FPGA processors provide some unique benefits that you cannot realize with commercial off-the-shelf microprocessors. Here are some of the benefits of buying a Direct Components Altera FPGA:

One of the key advantages of the FPGA IC is that you can allocate various sections (interconnected logic blocks) to different functionalities. This means that you can use the chip to run different tasks simultaneously with these functions not interfering with each other and often at a higher speed than it is possible with the traditional microcontrollers. When you use a microprocessor to run tasks in parallel, it has to share its limited resources between the two tasks. With the FPGA, you do not have to share any resources because the parallel tasks will utilize different regions of the IC chip and run independently.

Another key benefit of buying an Altera FPGA for your project is that it can work in tandem with a microprocessor to enable efficient utilization of resources and overall better functionality. To understand the concept behind it, you need to come to terms with the complementary functions of both. While the microprocessor is responsible for the complex control and coordination functions of the project, the FPGA does the actual tasks. You can think of the microprocessor as the “brains” and the FPGA as the “muscles” that does the heavy lifting. This is particularly useful in projects where the outputs signals generated are more than the IO ports of the microprocessor can handle.

FPGAs also help reduce the overall costs of the project. This can be achieved by replacing many obsolete peripheral devices (ASICs) that were a constant feature of older projects. The advantage is two-fold when you also factor in the enhanced operational speed and overall system efficiency that comes with using an FPGA-based microprocessor as opposed to the traditional non-FPGA-based model.
FPGA-based microprocessors introduce flexibility to your project by allowing you to tailor your hardware to the software requirements. In older models, where you had to adjust your program to suit the hardware, it was more time-consuming and cumbersome. With a more flexible set up, obsolescence is also mitigated. The FPGA-based microprocessor boasts configurable memory that is also faster. Therefore, the flexibility is a welcome improvement.

It is worth noting that the Altera FPGA, though capable, is not substituting microprocessors per se and is actually better suited to function as a complementary device. It works together with microprocessors to function optimally.