Over the last few weeks I’ve been asking a lot of my embedded designer friends what they know about FPGAs (yes, I do have friends, don’t be cheeky!)
These are guys who are black-belt “masters of the mystic arts” when it comes to designing embedded systems using microcontrollers that they program in Assembly, C, C++, or some other programming or scripting language. But when I asked them about FPGAs, I was amazed by the number who knew practically nothing about these little rascals.
The general level of understanding is that an FPGA is "A silicon chip that can be configured to do whatever you want it to do," and … actually, there is no “and” … that’s it. A lot of these guys and gals have heard that hardware design engineers use languages like Verilog or VHDL, but … once again that’s pretty much it.
The surprising thing is how many folks mention that they would really like to learn more about FPGAs … it’s just that they’ve never gotten around to it. This reminds me of the character Ray in the Woody Allen film Small Time Crooks. When asked about what cultural refinement he would most like to attain, Ray replies “You know, I've always wanted to know how to spell ‘Connecticut.’”
The point, of course, is that Ray could learn this anytime he liked. Similarly, anyone can learn FPGAs anytime they like… it’s just a matter of getting round to it. Of course learning FPGAs might take a tad longer than learning how to spell Connecticut. How much longer? Well, I’m glad you asked, because we’re about to find out…
We just launched a new website called All Programmable Planet that boasts a bevy of the most incredible bloggers. One of them is Duane Benson – a microcontroller expert who knows nothing whatsoever about FPGAs. Duane has been using microcontrollers on his motor controllers and robot projects for years. Now he is discovering that his microcontrollers are running out of power and flexibility. There are some things that just need more “oomph” than a little standalone microcontroller has to offer. Thus, Duane has kindly volunteered to learn all about FPGAs from scratch and to document his progress in a series of blogs.
The thing is that FPGAs offer all sorts of capabilities that are of interest for all sorts of applications. In some cases you might decide to use an FPGA in conjunction with a MCU; in other cases you might configure a portion of the FPGA to implement one or more MCUs; alternatively you might use an FPGA that has one or more hard core MCUs embedded inside it … the possibilities are endless.
The bottom line is that FPGAs are seeing exponential growth across the board in all sorts of markets for all sorts of applications. Some MCU designers are going to learn how to ride the crest of the FPGA wave, while others will sit around saying “I wish I could learn how to use FPGAs” until the wave washes over them and leaves them battered and bewildered and gasping for air (sorry … I was on a roll :-)
But don’t take my word for it – bounce over to All Programmable Planet right now to see what’s going on. Once you’re there, search for “Discovering FPGAs” to see Duane’s blogs, and also check out the other blogs to see what’s going on. It would be great if you decided to become a member and to start voting on blogs and commenting on them. You could even purchase a low-cost FPGA development board and follow along with Duane and he learns the mysteries of the FPGA…
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