Well – which is better, a spoon, a knife or a fork? They are different tools that excel at different things. Certain tasks can be done with both, but in some it is much more appropriate and efficient to use zynq ultra scale+ module FPGA platform. Fortunately, the scientific and technical field is not like a football game or politics. We don’t have to choose a side. In fact, we can use them all even simultaneously. Thus, there are devices that combine a processor together with an FPGA to provide us with the best of both worlds. In any case, FPGAs are a very powerful tool and different enough from the rest to be interesting on their own.
Can you make a processor with an FPGA?
Of course yes. An FPGA can adopt any electronic logic circuit, and the processors are electronic circuits. The only limitation is that the FPGA has to be large enough to accommodate the processor electronics. There are small processor projects that can be configured on an FPGA. There are even projects to emulate historic FPGA processors, like the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer processor. Emulating an FPGA processor is an interesting exercise for both the complexity and the learning. However, in most cases, it is easier and cheaper to combine the FPGA with an existing processor. There are very good processors.
Why are FPGAs on the rise?
First of all, FPGAs have a lower price over time. Not many years ago an automaton with a capacity similar to an Arduino could cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars, and now we can find it for a few dollars. Similarly, FPGAs have been gaining popularity in the industry. As production increases, they have appeared with greater capabilities and functionalities. There are even ranges for embedded devices or mobile applications. All this leads to the price drop of certain FPGA models.
On the other hand, the main reason for the rise in popularization of FPGAs in the field is the reverse engineering work carried out by Clifford Wolf, which led to the project Ice Storm. The Ice Storm project is a toolkit that allows the creation of the bit stream necessary to program an FPGA with open Source tools. It was the first time that an FPGA could be programmed with Open Source tools.
Do FPGAs have a future or are they a fad?
Well, it is most likely that FPGAs are devices that will be useful in the medium and short term. They are frequently used to facilitate ASIC design and prototyping. They are also expanding their scope of application, from applications with heavy calculations to light versions for mobile devices. Speaking of the future in which FPGAs become cheaper and popular, we can even imagine hybrid FPGA and processor systems where software can reconfigure the hardware, creating or undoing processors, or memory, depending on the needs.
The real question is, do Open Source FPGAs have a future and in the “domestic” field or are they a fad? The short answer is, let’s hope so. It is the technique that continues to advance.