The Difference Between Small FPGA and Mid-Range FPGA

Understanding the characteristics between each FPGA segment

A Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) is an integrated circuit that can be programmed and reprogrammed by a user after manufacturing. Unlike a CPU, which is programmed using a software language, FPGAs are programmed using a parallel hardware language with constructs conducive to describing digital electronic features such as logic gates, registers, memory, parallel arithmetic, and I/O functions.

FPGAs consist of a matrix of programmable logic blocks, memory, arithmetic functions, programmable I/O, and various optimized protocol controllers, which can be configured to perform complex digital operations. Most designers use VHSIC Hardware Description Language (VHDL) to describe the function of their FPGAs.

FPGA suppliers provide a toolset that compiles the language descriptions and prebuilt “IP” (intellectual property) blocks into a programming file (aka bitstream) that is loaded into the FPGA device.

The most common metric used to compare density of FPGA devices is based on the amount of equivalent 4-input lookup tables (LUTs). This metric is also known as Logic Cells, System Logic Cells, or Logic Elements. Although the exact implementation of logic in FPGAs can vary by supplier, these metrics are the best way to evaluate capacity.

Defining a Small FPGA vs a Mid-range FPGA

There is no exact industry-wide accepted delineation of small FPGA versus mid-range FPGA, however FPGAs spanning 5,000 to 100,000 logic cells are a good approximation of the small FPGA market while mid-range FPGAs span from 100,000 to 500,000 logic cells.

However, the differences between small and mid-range FPGAs are not only about package size or density range. Small FPGAs typically focus on I/O expansion, sensor aggregation, and CPU/MCU co-processor functions. Mid-range FPGAs focus on higher complexity application processing across a wide spectrum of use models, with a significant performance boost for complex artificial intelligence (AI) workloads and servicing the highest level of hardware security required for current and future cybersecurity threats.

In the established and emerging markets of datacenters, networking, industrial control, automotive safety, and infotainment, mid-range FPGAs offer faster networking speed and higher processing capabilities while maintaining low power and low cost.

Lattice Small FPGAs

Lattice’s 40+ year history of innovation is built upon of focus on delivering the industry’s lowest power small programmable logic devices (PLDs) and FPGAs. When designing an FPGA platform, Lattice diligently selects the process node to achieve the best matched balance of power, performance, and feature set to service the needs of the small and mid-range FPGA markets and applications it will address.

The Lattice Nexus platform is designed for small FPGAs. It utilizes an extremely low power process based on 28nm fully depleted silicon on insulator (FD-SOI) technology. Using this process node, Lattice offers several “families” of FPGAs of varying features and densities to service small FPGA markets. The 28nm FD-SOI technology offers great power efficiency for battery operated devices, and excellent long-term reliability – including an extremely low soft error rate, which is the FPGA’s resistance to atmospheric alpha particles found at high altitude that can disrupt the state of storage elements in electronic devices.

Lattice Mid-range FPGAs

Lattice’s mid-range FPGA platform, Lattice Avant, features a low power, high-performance “fabric” that enables the implementation of complex logic functions, high-speed interfaces, and best-in-class reliability and security to suit a wide range of applications. Using 16nm FinFET technology, the Avant platform offers up to 5X higher device capacity, 10X more bandwidth, and 30X faster performance than Nexus-based devices. Avant FPGAs include a wide range of connectivity options paired with up to 36 Mb of embedded memory, 1800 18x18 multiplier blocks, and packages as small as 11 mm x 9 mm.

Avant picks up where Nexus leaves off and offer significantly higher throughput and processing power while maintaining the low power and small form factor pedigree that Lattice is known for.

The following chart depicts the capacity in logic cells of FPGA devices in the Nexus (small) and Avant (mid-range) platforms.

Nexus and Avant Logic Cells Difference

Choosing the right FPGA

Choosing the right FPGA is crucial to the success of your design. As the leading provider of low power, highly reliable, small form factor FPGAs, Lattice offers products based on the type of application you’re developing:

  • General purpose – designed for a broad range of application needs.
  • Embedded vision – designed for video bridging and processing.
  • Ultra-low power – designed for power- and space-constrained applications.
  • System control and security – designed for platform management and security.

Lattice also offers a suite of intuitive, easy-to-use software design tools and solution stacks for various market applications like embedded display processing, artificial intelligence, machine vision, robotics, and security.

Visit our Products page for more information about Nexus, Avant, and all other Lattice FPGAs.