Among the many FPGA development boards out there, which ones are the best? An FPGA board is a speedy device, not unlike an ASIC or video card. For this reason, different manufacturers have gotten on the FPGA bandwagon recently. Since their popularity is rising, so are the number of boards. The FPGA development board that is right for you depends on the task at hand and your wallet. Taking a quick look at some of the boards offered, we will see that boards like these are not at all alike. At the same time, some smaller boards are just as excellent as the larger ones for their price. Here are a few to consider.
One of the smaller models is the Maximator FPGA development board. This is a handsome board that comes equipped with more than a few peripherals. Take a look at some of the useful hardware on this model. A micro USB cable, an expansion shield, a variable potentiometer and USB blaster board are included. The USB blaster board serves as the coupler between the user’s computer and the FPGA board. It connects up at the included JTAG connector. In truly automated fashion, the Maximator comes loadable with drivers from the Quartus program. This is the program from Intel that will be used to provide a UI for programming purposes. There are 8000 logic gates on this board. Considering this board is physically designed to go into an Arduino box, that is impressive. There are also a slew of other goodies attached to the board, including both VGA and HDMI connectors, MicroSD card slot, four seven-segment LEDs, and Arduino REV 3 connectors. A temperature sensor for the main chip is also included. For the price of $54 dollars, this is a hefty deal.
Next on the list is the NETFPGA-SUME. This board is a top of the line board that a professional should own. Partially designed by the professors at Cambridge University, this is a high powered board that can probably do anything you ask it to do. The board has four SFP plus interfaces, each with its own transceiver. The master chip is the Xilinx Virtex-7 FPGA model. This one part has a whopping 693,120 logic gates. There are 52,920 blocks of random access memory. There are 3,600 digital signal processing slices and 1,000 input-output pins. With a price of $4651 dollars, it comes in exactly at the same price per logic gate as the Maximator FPGA. But the difference in performance is about 87 times what a Maximator can do. The NETFPGA-SUME is a board designed for high performance and connects to Linux systems with its own PCIE connector.
How about a Go board? This board is one of those FPGAs that will not break your wallet. It costs around $50 to $65 dollars. If you had caught the Kickstarter for this board, it would have cost only $35 dollars. The Go FPGA board is designed by Nandland. To keep things simple the board is programmed and powered by one USB connection. There is a VGA connector, two seven-segment displays, four LEDs, four push buttons and an external PMOD connector. The Lattice ICE40 HX1K FPGA main chip has 150 look up tables. This equates to 1280 logic cells. The program that powers this board is ICEcube2 made by Lattice. Icecube2 is laid out similar to the Quartus program for those who are accustomed to using Intel and Altera boards. To compare this price per logic gate with the last two boards, this board is much more economical.
The next FPGA development board is next on the list is the Basys 3 Artix-7. This FPGA board is recommended for a novice user. It has less power to offer for its $150 sticker price than the other models mentioned. There are 16 user switches, a four-digit seven-segment display, a 12 bit VGA output, three PMOD ports, five user pushbuttons, a USB HID host for using a mouse and more. There are 33,280 logic cells in this small board. It is only five inches long by 3.2 inches wide. It can exceed 450 Mhz in its clock speed. If a small footprint is what you are after, this would be the choice. Having a VGA connector on a board this small is a nice touch. But as far as comparing processing power with dollars spent, the Maximator or Go board would be better choices.
The last FPGA board on the list is the Intel Altera Cyclone IV EP4CE6. This model comes in at a modest $60 dollars, but you may find it at around $30 dollars in Chinese stores. The EP4CE6E22C8N is the main chip for this board and has 6,272 logic elements. There is a VGA connection, RS232 serial port, PS2 interface for a mouse, a JTAG connector and a four-digit seven-segment LED display. The main chip has a temperature sensor to avoid overheating. Like the other boards, the USB blaster is included to hook up directly to your laptop or PC. The cable is included. The size for this board is 5.35 inches by 4.2 inches. Even though it is small it is not as powerful as the Basys. At the same time, it is not priced highly. One extra feature that the Altera Cyclone IV EP4CE6 has is an infrared interface. This would, in theory, make it controllable by an infrared remote control.
The best board to buy is determined by your personal goals. Do you just want an introduction to FPGA programming? If so, the Go board may be right for you. If you need some serious control for a busy internet or intranet connection, the NETFPGA-SUME would be best. However you need your FPGA board to perform, look at the number of logic cells in relation to the sticker price. This will be the key to knowing if you are getting the value you are looking for. The other point to consider is the size. The larger FPGAs are large and require a rack mount. The smaller ones are not much bigger than a credit card. All models are able to handle high-frequency logic with low latency no matter which board you choose.