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I have a large group of new and old devices and I would like to find a FPGA to start poking around on. What products or types will be likely to have FPGAs in them?

I recently asked this question on the reverse engineering stackexchange, but was directed here and thought the question would benefit from the original source that has inspired my search: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY9SBPo1Oy8

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FPGAs are rather hard to find in the wild, since once the prototyping phase of a project is done, the company will usually switch to an ASIC instead. The best place to find them would probably be discarded FPGA evaluation boards.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Please tell me where would be a likely place to find an evaluation board? \$\endgroup\$ – Spencer May 23 '13 at 23:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can search regularly on eBay. Many times you can find used FPGA evaluation boards there for decent prices. I just now went there and searced with the keyword "digilent" and saw at least three boards up for sale there. Do note that the used market for these boards are generally for the older technology FPGA parts but for investigating and learning these are certainly suitable. If your learning takes you toward something like a product you can then step up to the later technology parts that will have a longer longevity in the market place. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Karas May 24 '13 at 1:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ eBay also has a bunch of FPGAs "for recovery", that is, they are attached to existing custom boards. It would be challenging, but not impossible, to modify such a board for your own purposes. That said, note that larger devices are generally not supported by the free version of the FPGA vendor's tools, even if they are obsolete. \$\endgroup\$ – mng May 24 '13 at 17:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ "usually switch to an ASIC" - really? I know of plenty of (high-volume, yes) applications with FPGAs in them. \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Thompson May 28 '13 at 10:24
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One additional problem is that if you find an FPGA the packages aren't typically suitable for breadboarding. Some smaller devices will have SMT packages such as TQFP that you could potentially remove and install onto a TQFP to DIP adapter, but some are just about impossible to deal with at home coming in high density BGA packages.

For reference a TQFP package is a kind of quad flat package that has surface mount pins extending out from around the outside of the package, the pitch (gap between pins) varies depending on the size but 0.5mm is a common one. With some practice and fairly basic tools they can be removed and resoldered at home. The pins are sufficiently small that they need to be soldered to a circuit board however. You can get TQFP to DIP adapters where you solder the chip on top and 0.1" pins extend down that can be plugged into a breadboard.

A BGA is a ball grid array that has balls at the bottom of the package that aren't even visible when viewed from the top, so hand-soldering them one-by-one isn't an option. Specialty equipment is needed to rework those reliably and sometimes X-ray inspection is used to inspect the solder joints because it isn't possible to see them otherwise.

The gear you're most likely to find them in such as high-end routers, switches and video processing equipment are likely to use the larger devices. Many (most?) FPGAs also require multiple power supplies and the I/O lines often aren't tolerant of higher voltages so they're also pretty easy to destroy unless you're careful with the design.

As haneefmubarak suggested Digilent make an excellent range of prototyping boards. They take care of the tricky interfacing requirements and are an ideal way to get started. I purchased one for around $100 some time ago and had it up and running with a simple design in a manner of hours.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the useful information, but could you be so kind as to explain a little more about some of the acronyms you used? I was not able to find all of them when searching for more information. \$\endgroup\$ – Spencer May 24 '13 at 0:05
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Since you want to know places to look for FPGA boards. Try this wiki page that is usually uptodate!

Joel Williams - Cheap FPGA Development Boards

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Ask your local FPGA distributor. They make have some older ones that are cheaper than the current generation of parts. But if you are "poking around on", you probably want an evaluation board.

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you can opt for something like HD video boards. then use some vide peripherials to connect it. But it depends on how you define cheap. according to your hackaday link, that device the guy uses is found in video hardwares, i think it has something to do with the matrix in television. http://www.amazon.com/electronics/dp/B00BUUV4X6 you can buy one for 15$. the dev boards Papilo is 65$ and LatticeXP2 is 49$.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I found a blog post on something called a color processing board on hackaday but I do not have anything like that. I have several old cell phones, at least 20 router/modem type products, and others. The video I watched the guy bought an FPGA at a garage type sale, but it was also very cool what he made out of the routers! \$\endgroup\$ – Spencer May 23 '13 at 23:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ i am sorry, but i don't have much practical knowledge (like how to do this/that).moreover the topics are so industry level that i barely have any hope of gaining some theoretical knowledge .. i just knew that those video cards are likely to have fpga's... there will be better ideas i think \$\endgroup\$ – shortCircuit May 23 '13 at 23:38
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Here is a similar question: Cheap/old consumer devices to recover FPGA boards from

And a slashdot thread with some similar discussions: http://hardware.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2086242&cid=35835256

If you are willing to buy new but cheap take a look at digilent (especially their educational prices) and papilio ($38 as of now) here : http://store.gadgetfactory.net/papilio-one-250k/

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If you are familiar with the Arduino and are interested in (fairly) simple FPGA development, then you could give this a look. I personally don't have experience with it, but SparkFun tends to make/carry good products. It even has some interesting accessories for VGA and other connectivity. Hope this helps!

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The best place that I can think of, especially as a student myself, would be http://www.digilent.com

EDIT: Added specific boards.

I would go for a device based on a Spartan 5 or 6, so one of Digilent's Nexys or Atlys series'.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's like responding to a "What equipment can I salvage a motor from" with "Buy one from Digikey"... it's neither a useful answer, nor does it address the specific question. \$\endgroup\$ – Anindo Ghosh May 24 '13 at 5:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not really, its more like: Q: Where can I get an electric car from? A: Tesla. There are others, but this the easiest place to get them from. \$\endgroup\$ – haneefmubarak May 24 '13 at 6:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Did you even read the question? "... find cheap sources of FPGA? Which devices should I open first?" \$\endgroup\$ – Anindo Ghosh May 24 '13 at 7:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Alright, edited. \$\endgroup\$ – haneefmubarak May 25 '13 at 3:29

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