The technology behind field programmable gate arrays or FPGA was developed in the late 1980s. Although, the first major manufacturers of this technology began putting FPGA boards on the market by 1985.
At its very basic an FPGA board is an integrated circuit which can be manipulated by the end user. After manufacturing, a customer can configure it any way they want which is where it gets the term field programmable. This programmability is also specified by a hardware description language or HDL which is the same as those used in ASICs or application specific integrated circuits.
FPGAs have programmable logic blocks as well as a hierarchy of interconnects that are also configurable so that they can be wired together. Logic blocks can be made to do simple logic gates or they can do more complex functions. Almost all FPGAs have memory elements. These can be complete memory blocks or simple flip flop.
The FPGAs of today have large logic gates and RAM which allow digital computations to be performed. They also make use of fast IOs and data buses. There are timing issues which is where floor planning in FPGA can help in meeting time constraints in various functions. The end user can update the functionality of an FPGA after getting it and the low cost of the ASIC design allows there to be many advantages for the applications programmed into the board. ASICS are often thought of as faster than FPGAs, however.
These boards became fully marketed in the early 1990s. The leaders in the manufacturer were Altera and Xilinx. They are the leaders of the FPGA market to this day even though there are more competitors. Altera and Xilinx make up over 60 percent of the FPGA board market.
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