Field-programmable gate array

A Stratix IV FPGA from Altera

A field-programmable gate array (FPGA) is an integrated circuit designed to be configured by a customer or a designer after manufacturing – hence " field-programmable". The FPGA configuration is generally specified using a hardware description language (HDL), similar to that used for an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). ( Circuit diagrams were previously used to specify the configuration, as they were for ASICs, but this is increasingly rare.)

A Spartan FPGA from Xilinx

FPGAs contain an array of programmable logic blocks, and a hierarchy of reconfigurable interconnects that allow the blocks to be "wired together", like many logic gates that can be inter-wired in different configurations. Logic blocks can be configured to perform complex combinational functions, or merely simple logic gates like AND and XOR. In most FPGAs, logic blocks also include memory elements, which may be simple flip-flops or more complete blocks of memory. [1]

Technical design

Contemporary field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) have large resources of logic gates and RAM blocks to implement complex digital computations. As FPGA designs employ very fast I/Os and bidirectional data buses, it becomes a challenge to verify correct timing of valid data within setup time and hold time. Floor planning enables resource allocation within FPGAs to meet these time constraints. FPGAs can be used to implement any logical function that an ASIC could perform. The ability to update the functionality after shipping, partial re-configuration of a portion of the design [2] and the low non-recurring engineering costs relative to an ASIC design (notwithstanding the generally higher unit cost), offer advantages for many applications. [1]

Some FPGAs have analog features in addition to digital functions. The most common analog feature is programmable slew rate on each output pin, allowing the engineer to set low rates on lightly loaded pins that would otherwise ring or couple unacceptably, and to set higher rates on heavily loaded pins on high-speed channels that would otherwise run too slowly. [3] [4] Also common are quartz-crystal oscillators, on-chip resistance-capacitance oscillators, and phase-locked loops with embedded voltage-controlled oscillators used for clock generation and management and for high-speed serializer-deserializer (SERDES) transmit clocks and receiver clock recovery. Fairly common are differential comparators on input pins designed to be connected to differential signaling channels. A few " mixed signal FPGAs" have integrated peripheral analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) and digital-to-analog converters (DACs) with analog signal conditioning blocks allowing them to operate as a system-on-a-chip. [5] Such devices blur the line between an FPGA, which carries digital ones and zeros on its internal programmable interconnect fabric, and field-programmable analog array (FPAA), which carries analog values on its internal programmable interconnect fabric.

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