Learning About FPGAs

Learning About FPGAs

What Is An FPGA?

An FPGA is probably one of the most important things in the modern world that you have never heard of. Most people don’t actually hear about FPGAs since they are such a niche product and are only common in certain engineering circles. However, there are certain things that while they are not that popular, have a profound impact on our modern world. FPGAs had that effect since they are responsible for almost every integrated circuit that comes to the market. It has dramatically shifted the way we produce electronics and has made the process quicker and much easier. An FPGA is called a floating-point grid array which means it is essentially an array of connections on a circuit.

What makes an FPGA special is the connections you make can be changed through programming. This means that for an FPGA device, you can change it how you like by programming it. It actually rearranges itself based on the code you write and as such, it can change its utility. An FPGA can become almost every type of integrated circuit you want. It could be a graphics processor one day and then the next day you could change it to become an artificial intelligence processor or even something for processing digital or analog signals. No matter what, if you dream it up, you can change it to become whatever you want. This is the most important part of the way it works.

What Does It Do?

The question most people ask then is what does it do? Well, it allows you to prototype things before you bring them to Market. In the past, electronics had to be fabricated at home on physical breadboards. As time went on, people decided to start having devices purpose-built for these circuits. For integrated circuits, you almost have to pray that there were no bugs in your design because once you sent it to the fab there was nothing you could do. It was almost impossible to prototype devices that were integrated circuits. This meant that the time-to-market was a lot longer since engineers knew they could not make any mistakes while they were working. They also knew the astronomical costs associated with electronic fabrication and did not want to mess it up. They took little risk and also went over things to or three times to make sure there were never any mistakes.

With the invention of FPGA devices, you can now program any integrated circuit and upload it to your FPGA to test. You could test things over and over again continually refining your code and making the device even better. Once you felt you had out winning device, you could take it to market and fabricate it on a mass scale. This meant you could save a lot of time and money.

Major Companies in the Industry

The FPGA market is actually a very small market compared to electronics overall. Since these devices are niche items and most people never need them, there are few companies in the industry. There are two players Xilinx and Altera. Sometimes you need to know where to buy Altera components, but the question is a lot easier than most people think. In the modern age, there are many places to get what you need and these companies have their own websites. These companies both have their own suite of tools to enable you to program and create FPGA devices with ease. They have integrated software solutions and also their own boards. You can actually get a kit from Xilinx that comes with the CD and many peripherals to connect your FPGA board to your computer or laptop. This allows for easy programming and debugging. It is a perfect way for you to get started and learn. Altera also has the same suite of tools that only work with its own FPGA device. No matter which brand you choose, you will not go wrong since they are both exceptional value and will teach you the same way.

Where to Buy Your Devices?

A big question you might ask is where to buy Altera components. There are a variety of online stores that allow you to purchase electronics components in general from almost anywhere in the world. These places are great in that they offer the ability to buy in bulk or small runs as you need. FPGA devices can be expensive depending on the peripherals on the functionality you want. The more functionality, the more it will cost you as these devices can be very complicated. Sometimes it can be as complicated as the devices you have in your computer running. For example, you can get an FPGA device that has PCI connections that can be connected to your computer as an expansion device. This makes things a lot easier to interrupt with the computer and to get things done.

Potential Projects for You to Work On

There are many FPGA projects for you to work on. The most common projects to work on involve creating your own signal processors or even general microprocessors. There have been many old computer architectures that have been implemented using an FPGA. For example, the old MIPS architecture is something that has been used so long that the patents on this architecture are no longer valid. You are able to freely implement your own processor using that 1980s technology. However, it might not be the best idea since these processors are often very slow, but they are good for a simple project.

Another project for you to work on is simply implementing your own processing. For example, there are few devices that can do the calculations necessary for artificial intelligence and machine learning. There is a wealth of information available on artificial intelligence processing and this can be used to create your own tools. The speed of using an FPGA to process AI data is immense compared to a normal x86 processor. It will help you and speed things up immensely.

With cryptocurrency on the rise, one big project for you to take on is to simply create your own crypto miner. Bitcoin mining has become more popular as time has gone on. By creating your own customized mining rig, you can start mining bitcoin while using less electricity and getting better results. This was a major use for FPGA boards before the creation of ASICS for mining operations. There are countless other projects for you to take on on your own, and you are only limited by your imagination. Working with FPGA technology is fun and exciting.

The Future of FPGA Technology

When it comes to the future of FPGA devices, it is brighter than ever. You will see more devices coming to market that have special peripherals to connect to almost everything. We are also seeing better devices with an even larger number of cells. With these cells, you’re able to implement more complicated devices on this you are also seeing the devices get faster. Technology. Everything is improving in FPGA technology from the number of memory cells the how fast they are and what you can do. We also seeing FPGA devices become more expandable as people can create almost everything they want using them. The future for the devices is one where they are in almost everything from the military to the data center. We are even starting to see them being used to creating emulators instead of going with software emulation as was common before.

Ganesh Kolekar is a graduate and geek. He is the man behind keeping the quality of the posts and manages the content part on the website.