During my current PCB design using Altera FPGA, I happened to come across knowledge that Altera EPCS devices are to be used for FPGA configuration. After further research, I realized the same job can also be done by normal generic Flash-NOR of any make. In fact Cypress has an Application Note to this effect to (let's say) promote their own Flash chips for this purpose.

My question (and this baffles me truly) is that what's so special about the Altera chips that they charge $37 for the same as Cypress and others' chips which cost only 60c? Also does anyone know special cases or applications in which Altera EPCS chips are preferred?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do the Altera chips come preprogrammed from the factory? \$\endgroup\$ – st2000 Jul 15 '16 at 21:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would guess not as the data to be loaded is the configuration of the FPGA which can be variable and needs the chip to be reprogrammable. \$\endgroup\$ – Harshad D Jul 15 '16 at 21:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let me reword that. For $37 / chip, does Altera include programming services? Some OEMs will not want to program 1000s or even 100s of chips. \$\endgroup\$ – st2000 Jul 15 '16 at 22:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nope. These are sold through Digikey and the likes who charge extra for the programming which is a bad idea for a serial production kinda deal.... If it's one-off board design, then still it might make sense. \$\endgroup\$ – Harshad D Jul 16 '16 at 0:33

There is no good reason why Altera FPGAs require an Altera configuration flash EPROM in master mode. Altera just enjoy the profits of their captive market.

Xilinx were the same with their Spartan families until the Spartan 3 onwards, which can use cheap third-party flash EPROM for master configuration.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you ever used the EPCS chips? Are they known to have better performance ? \$\endgroup\$ – Harshad D Jul 15 '16 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've designed a lot of Altera circuits and most used EPCS devices. There's no hidden benefit to them, Altera just make more money by flogging them to customers. Remember that Xilinx did the same until 10-odd years ago. It was considered normal when I started. Not good, I'm afraid. \$\endgroup\$ – TonyM Jul 15 '16 at 21:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Remember that you can use slave configuration modes and stuff the data in using another FPGA, a microcontroller, a microprocessor or an FTDI USB interface chip. The latter is what a lot of demo' boards do as one of their programming options. So everyone's not tied to Altera's EPCS devices. But it's far from the ease of Xilinx devices and cheap SPI flash. \$\endgroup\$ – TonyM Jul 15 '16 at 21:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wonder if the support guys can answer this better.... \$\endgroup\$ – Harshad D Jul 16 '16 at 0:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HarshadD, unclear what you mean. \$\endgroup\$ – TonyM Jul 16 '16 at 6:22

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