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4 Robust Circuit Boards for Engineers Who Want Serious FPGA Power

December 06, 2018 by Luke James

FPGAs, or field programmable gate arrays, are incredibly useful pieces of technology that play an important role in many designs. Here are four particularly great use cases where circuit boards make good use of their FPGA components.

Whether you are using an FPGA as part of a live design project, testing the waters with a new idea, or still learning, it is important that you are using a robust product that can stand up to today’s design challenges. Take a look at these three circuit boards that make great use of FPGAs, as well as one stellar FPGA in its own right, to see what product will best fit your next project.

Terasic’s DE10-Nano

Featuring an Intel chip that incorporates Coretex-AP embedded dual cores, as well as lots of programmable logic, the Terasic DE10-Nano (pictured above) has a lot of design potential when it is put up against comparable models, such as Diligent’s Arty S7 FPGA.

With 1GB SDRAM, gigabit ethernet networking, and two 40-pin expansion heads, it is the ideal product for projects where there is an undefined scope. It’s also a great learner board, too, due to the potential for additional SD memory and Linux board support.

Microsemi’s Polar Fire FPGA

If you are an experienced engineer looking for something with a little more “oomph” that can tackle any project, especially in areas where security is a key consideration, then Microsemi’s award-winning and recently approved-for-production Polar Fire FPGA is exactly what you need.

They are built on a non-volatile 28-nanometre process technology, which enables the PolarFire FPGA to target high-speed and low-power applications. By incorporating 8-24 12.7GHz transceiver lanes, each operating at under 100mW per lane, low-power PCIe ports, and a network of input lookup tables using fractionable D-type flip-flops as configurable logic, the PolarFire FPGA can support up to 1,600Mbps DDR4 and 1,333Mbps DDR3 interfaces.

Image courtesy of Microsemi.

Delivering low power at mid-range densities whilst being secure and reliable, the PolarFire FPGAs have been optimized for cost-effective utilization, and they are the ideal candidates for a vast range of applications such as cellular infrastructure, access networks, and commercial aviation systems, as well as Industry 4.0.

Although not a circuit in its own right, circuits that eventually use the PolarFire FPGA will be well worth the investment, and it won’t be too long before it hits the markets. If you can’t wait, consider implementing a PolarFire FPGA into your own circuit.

Terasic’s Altera DE1 Board

Terasic has packed a lot into this board. With a lot of peripherals to explore, such as SD/MMC and VGA, there are potential applications to an endless range of systems and designs incorporated in this board. In addition to this, there is also push-button functionality, which can sometimes be hard to come across.

Image courtesy of Terasic.

With all the Altera FPGA’s options and functionality, it will take a while before you even come close to using it at full capacity within your design projects.

Digilent CMOD A7

Available in two versions, 15T and 35T, the latter having more flip-flops, LUTs, and block RAM, the CMOD A7 utilizes a Xilinx Artix-7 FPGA.

Image courtesy of Digilent.

In terms of functionality, the board has SRAM, Quad-SPI Flash, basic input/output devices, LEDs, push buttons, an RGB LED, a clock source… I could go on and on. It is a comprehensive board ideal for engineers of all levels and experience.

Which to Go With?

This entirely depends on your personal circumstances. All of these boards make great use of FPGAs, and any circuit that uses the PolarFire FPGA is a sure bet. 

In particular, as the winner of Electronics Products’ coveted Product of the Year award, the PolarFire FPGA has been recognized as an outstanding product within its class. It will be interesting to see how it fares in circuit boards down the road.

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