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FPGA VS Microcontroller - Which One Is Better For Your PCB Board

When working on a complex PCBA and or/embedded systems, it’s a good idea to integrate an on-board controller that can control the entire circuit. The tiny controller on the circuit board ensures that the expected features and functionalities are achieved in the electronics gadget.This article debates on FPGA VS microcontroller, and how each of them are beneficial for any PCBA.

Table of Contents

Relationship Between FPGA, Microcontroller, & Embedded System

Relationship between FPGA, Microcontroller and embedded system
Relationship between FPGA, Microcontroller and embedded system

FPGA In Embedded Systems

If you have an embedded system and want to implement your custom digital circuit, then FPGA can help you do so. An FPGA can be reconfigured and you can modify it without the need to change the physical structure or physical components. It’s a highly efficient integrated circuit, that you can use in real-time applications, perform complex algorithms, computations, etc.

Microcontrollers-In Embedded Systems

A microcontroller board can be embedded in an embedded system, where it’ll act as a tiny computer. It’ll be a central component, which means that all the components in an embedded system will pass the data to each other through a microcontroller. A microcontroller helps components on the circuit to communicate with each other by following prescribed protocols.

Communication Between FPGA & Microcontrollers

It’s quite possible to implement both, FPGAs and microcontrollers in one embedded system to facilitate using technologies, powers, and advantages of both the technologies. Tasks can be divided between both the ICs to achieve improved output and robustness in a PCBA.

FPGA- Field Programmable Gate Array

What’s an FPGA?

An FPGA is an Integrated Circuit (IC), that can act as a controller of an embedded system. Inside an FPGA, you’ll find logic blocks that can be configured as needed. Furthermore, there are programmable interconnects that you can program as needed. The programmable interconnects help implement digital functions in the PCBA.

Pros & Cons Of FPGA

Pros and cons of FPGA
Pros and cons of FPGA

Advantages
● FPGAs can be programmed and customized according to your needs and requirements. There’s no need to make any physical changes to the overall PCBA.
● FPGAs can perform multiple operations simultaneously. It has built-in parallelism.
● You can get real-time responses with low latency in FPGAs.

Disadvantages
● An FPGA is expensive since it’s a complex IC with several features. Advanced programmability and the ability to customize make it a costly component.
● It takes a lot of time to design, customize, and program an FPGA.
● The processing power of an FPGA is limited dispute its capability of parallel processing.

Applications Of FPGA

1. High-performance Computing; Some high-performance computing includes hardware acceleration, offloading computationally intensive tasks, etc. Moreover, FPGAs are perfect for use in artificial intelligence, cryptography, etc.
2. Images & Videos Processing: Processing any image or video is a complex task, requiring several operations to be performed simultaneously. FPGA comes in handy in such tasks.
3. Aerospace & Defense: Aerospace demands real-time results with low latency and high accuracy. Defense systems need highly accurate and robust embedded systems, where FPGAs are perfect for use.

MCU- Microcontroller

What’s A Microcontroller?

It’s a small computer or the master controller of the entire circuit board. It allows all the components to communicate with each other without any errors. A microcontroller can also handle any errors, algorithms, and communication for the entire PCBA.

Pros & Cons Of Microcontroller

Advantages
● Microcontrollers allow real-time control, enabling it to be used in real-time and time-based equipment.
● It uses low power, hence it becomes perfect to be used in battery-operated products.
● A microcontroller is a very cost-effective IC, unlike FPGA Vs. microcontroller. Therefore, it’s preferred by most industrialists looking for budget-friendly PCBAs.

Disadvantages
● Unlike FPGA VS microcontrollers, you can program a microcontroller to a limited extent, which proves its rigidness in terms of reprogrammability.
● When developing complex products, using a microcontroller can be challenging.
● There’s limited external connectivity with a microcontroller.

Applications Of MCU

Applications of microcontroller
Applications of microcontroller

1. Security Systems: You can use an MCU in security systems like alarms, CCTV cameras, etc.
2. IoT: IoT has emerged as one of the most popular and hot trend, where you can develop an IoT device using an MCU.
3. Automotive: Automotive heavily rely on electronics features, which need a central controller. That’s where car makers need MCUs.
4. Industrial Automation: To automate a machinery, tool, or a plant, you need a programmed controller that can eliminate human involvement to operate the machine. Industrial automation relies on microcontroller-enabled PCBAs.
5. Robotics & Consumer Electronics: Robots in every industry operate using an MCU. You’ll also find a microcontroller in almost every electronic gadget, whether it’s a small flash drive, a television, or even a washing machine.

FPGA VS Microcontroller

FPGA VS Microcontroller

Similarities

FPGA VS microcontroller has a few similarities, which include:

  • Programmability
    You can program and customize both of them without much hassle. Developers take help of software code to reprogram these ICs according to the requirements.
  • Parallel Processing
    Whether it’s a microcontroller or an FPGA, both can perform simultaneous operations, otherwise called parallel processing. This allows developing a robust product.
  • Application-specific Design
    With reference to FPGA VS microcontroller, you can use either of them in any application, since they feature an application-specific design. This means that they can be programmed to perform any given application.

Differences

FPGA VS microcontroller has a few distinguished features that include:

  • Architecture
    FPGA and MCU have totally different architectures. An MCU has a CPU, memory, and a few peripherals like timers, communication interfaces, etc. FPGA has logic blocks.
  • Processing Power
    While both allow parallel processing, MCU is more focused on sequential processing, though. This limits its capability to perform computations faster than an FPGA.

What’s Better For PCBs- Microcontroller Or FPGA?

After learning about FPGA VS microcontroller, you must be wondering which one is better for PCBs. Here’s how to choose the better IC for your PCBA.
● Look for your product’s complexity. Choose microcontrollers for low to moderate complexity products and FPGAs for highly complex applications.
● If you’re tight on programming time, then go with MCUs as they have shorter development times than FPGAs.

Conclusion

After the end of the FPGA VS microcontroller debate, you must be wondering that choosing the correct IC is a hassle. You can leave all the tensions and hassles to IBE Electronics, as IBE Electronics will choose the best IC based on your product. You can contact IBE Electronics, give them your requirements, and they’ll best decide which IC to go with- FPGA or MCU.

FAQ

● FPGAs can be programmed and customized according to your needs and requirements. There’s no need to make any physical changes to the overall PCBA.
● FPGAs can perform multiple operations simultaneously. It has built-in parallelism.
● You can get real-time responses with low latency in FPGAs.

● Microcontrollers allow real-time control, enabling it to be used in real-time and time-based equipment.
● It uses low power, hence it becomes perfect to be used in battery-operated products.
● A microcontroller is a very cost-effective IC, unlike FPGA Vs. microcontroller. Therefore, it’s preferred by most industrialists looking for budget-friendly PCBAs.

  • Architecture
    FPGA and MCU have totally different architectures. An MCU has a CPU, memory, and a few peripherals like timers, communication interfaces, etc. FPGA has logic blocks.
  • Processing Power
    While both allow parallel processing, MCU is more focused on sequential processing, though. This limits its capability to perform computations faster than an FPGA.

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