Difference Between FPGA and Microcontroller

A processor is a computer chip that performs calculations. It makes all the logical decisions that are all the tasks that a computer does, from the simplest such as opening windows to the most complex such as completing a 3D animation.

This is why the processor is called the brain of the computer. Using a motherboard, your processor is connected to all the other components of your system.

It is the job of a processor to receive input data, process the data, and provide output data. Among all processors, FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) and microcontrollers are the two most common choices.

FPGA vs Microcontroller

The main difference between FPGA and Microcontroller is that FPGA has no defined hardware structure and is best suited for tasks requiring high processing speeds, whereas microcontrollers have a hardware structure and are best suited for performing basic tasks.

FPGA vs Microcontroller 1

FPGAs are integrated circuits that users can customize based on their requirements whenever they like. They are composed of several logic blocks that can be configured with ease with high description languages.

This processor consists of different components such as logic blocks, input/output blocks, and configurable logic blocks.

Microcontrollers are essentially mini-computers on their own. Several input/output devices are mounted on a small chip, which includes a memory and a CPU.

They are responsible for managing components such as sensors, memory, display, etc., within the system. 

Comparison Table Between FPGA and Microcontroller

Parameters of ComparisonFPGAMicrocontroller
DefinitionFPGAs are used to perform tasks that are complex and require high processing speeds.Microcontrollers are meant for performing simple tasks that don’t require such a high level of processing power.
FlexibilityFPGAs are more flexible because they allow the reprogramming of both the hardware and firmware.Microcontrollers are less flexible since they only allow reprogramming of the firmware.
ProcessingFPGAs are capable of parallel processing.Microcontrollers are limited to sequential processing.
Power consumptionFPGAs can perform parallel processing.The microcontroller can only perform sequential processing.
CostFPGAs are more expensive to implement.Microcontrollers are relatively inexpensive to implement. 
ProgrammingProgramming is a bit complicated and time-consuming.Programming is easier and takes less time.

What is an FPGA?

FPGAs are integrated circuits that can be customized based on user requirements at any time. A high description language can be used to configure logic blocks easily.

There are different components in this processor, including logic blocks, input/output blocks, and configurable logic blocks.

Tasks requiring high processing speed and complexity are handled by FPGAs. FPGAs provide greater flexibility because they can be reprogrammed both in hardware and in firmware.

FPGAs allow parallel processing by running identical operations simultaneously because there are thousands of control logic blocks working at the same time.

This makes artificial intelligence and image processing easy. FPGAs consume a lot of energy. Therefore, it is not recommended for tasks that drain the power quickly.

Programming an FPGA is a bit complicated and time-consuming because every program has to be written from scratch by the user. The cost of implementing FPGAs is high.

What is a Microcontroller?

A microcontroller is essentially a small computer on its own. The input and output devices are mounted on a small chip, which includes a memory and a CPU.

They are responsible for managing components such as sensors, memory, displays, etc., in the system.

Microcontrollers are programmed using higher level languages such as JavaScript, Python, and C. By using these languages, microcontrollers are able to instruct other components how to operate. 

Microcontrollers are designed to handle simple tasks that don’t require such a high level of processing power. Due to only being able to reprogramme the firmware, microcontrollers are less flexible.

Their implementation is relatively inexpensive. Microcontrollers are limited to sequential processing. Thus, it processes the commands given by the user one line at a time.

Since this takes a long time to complete, it makes accomplishing any task on a microcontroller a bit slow. Because of this, performing powerful tasks is not recommended.

It is easy to program microcontrollers because some pre-made packages can be purchased by the user. Each program is designed to perform a specific function.

The programming of a microcontroller is made easier and less time-consuming in this way.

Main Differences Between FPGA and Microcontroller

  1. FPGAs are best suited for complex tasks requiring high processing speeds, while Microcontrollers are usually used for simple tasks that do not require high processing speeds.
  2. An FPGA has a high degree of flexibility as it allows a user to reprogram both its hardware and firmware, whereas a microcontroller has a limited degree of flexibility because it requires the user to only reprogram the firmware.
  3. FPGAs are capable of parallel processing, whereas Microcontrollers are limited to sequential processing.
  4. FPGAs require a lot of power to operate, while Microcontrollers can be operated with relatively low power.
  5. FPGAs are time-consuming and complicated to program, so their implementation costs more, whereas microcontrollers can be implemented relatively cheaply since programming is a lot easier.

Conclusion

Any system would not be complete without a processor. Every time an engineer builds a system, he or she is forced to choose a processor for that system.

In most cases, engineers have to choose between FPGAs and microcontrollers due to their widespread use. The FPGA is the ideal solution when the system must perform complicated tasks at high speeds.

Microcontrollers are recommended if the system is required to perform basic tasks autonomously. Various other differences should also be considered before making a decision.

Even though using one or the other of them can maintain the overall cost of the system, both of them can be used in the system. Together, they cancel each other’s flaws and help the system achieve unmatched precision and speed.

References

  1. https://www.mdpi.com/608460
  2. https://openarchive.nure.ua/handle/document/4955
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