An FPGA Developer's Guide to Cheap Development Boards

Finally, a detailed and all-encompassing guide for those of us with an addiction to buying new FPGA development boards.

Whitney Knitter
3 years agoFPGAs / Communication
Just looking at the first few boards from my collection demonstrates the range in peripherals.

In living the life of an FPGA developer, you're pretty much always on the look out for a development board to fit your next project. Given the virtually endless configurability of the FPGA chip itself, the development board is all about the peripherals it offers and its overall cost. Despite the fact that there are only a few FPGA manufacturers, the companies and individuals designing FPGA development boards is just about as endless as the reconfigurability of an FPGA itself.

And even when you've found the perfect FPGA development board for your project, sometimes the board ends up discontinued when you need to replace it or buy more. This is the particular situation that lead one hobbyist to create his own reference list of affordable FPGA development boards.

Joel Williams' list starts off by outlining the criteria that he looks for in an FPGA development board. He makes the great point to consider what peripherals you need for your project and which of those peripherals are the most difficult to recreate yourself if they aren't built onto the development board itself. For instance, adding your own HDMI port or DDR flash memory would be such a pain that you'd sink more effort into adding them compared to the cost you saved of not buying them built into the development board.

The vast majority of the boards on this list are under a $150 price point with a few exceptions. Namely, the boards equipped with higher-speed peripherals tend to reflect that in their price.

The boards on this list are grouped together by FPGA chip manufacturer. This is helpful given each of the FPGA manufacturers require use of a proprietary toolchain for the place-and-route step of a design onto the FPGA, so FPGA developers tend to stick to the toolset they know when shopping for a new board.

This list is a really great resource for hobbyists, students, and industry engineers alike. As an engineer in industry, the beginning of every new project usually has a need for a low-cost initial proof of concept for the design and the last thing I want to do is spend a ton of time looking for a cost-effective development board when the clock is ticking on getting started with the project itself.

In true maker community spirit, Williams requests at the end of the list that anyone contact him if there is a board they think needs to be added to the list so it can keep evolving and stay up to date. This is definitely a resource I'll keep on hand myself for the future.

Whitney Knitter
Working as a full-time R&D engineer, but making time for the fun projects at home.
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