FPGA vs Microcontroller: Difference and Comparison

A processor is a computer chip that performs calculations. It makes all the logical decisions that are all a computer’s tasks, from the most straightforward 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 it, and provide output data. FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) and microcontrollers are the two most common choices among all processors.

Key Takeaways

  1. FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays) are reconfigurable integrated circuits with programmable logic blocks, enabling highly parallel processing. At the same time, microcontrollers are single-chip computers with a fixed architecture designed for specific tasks.
  2. FPGAs offer faster performance and greater flexibility in design but are more expensive and consume more power than microcontrollers.
  3. Microcontrollers are suitable for simple, low-cost applications, while FPGAs are ideal for complex, high-performance tasks requiring customization or rapid prototyping.

FPGA vs Microcontroller

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

FPGA vs Microcontroller 1

FPGAs are integrated circuits that users can customize based on their requirements. They comprise several logic blocks that can easily be configured with high-description languages.

This processor consists of logic, input/output, and configurable logic blocks.

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

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

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonFPGAMicrocontroller
DefinitionFPGAs are more flexible because they allow reprogramming both the hardware and firmware.Microcontrollers are meant for performing simple tasks that don’t require such a high level of processing power.
FlexibilityProgramming is more accessible and takes less time.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.

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This processor has different components, including logic blocks, input/output blocks, and configurable logic blocks.

FPGAs handle tasks requiring high processing speed and complexity. FPGAs provide greater flexibility because they can be reprogrammed in hardware and firmware.

FPGAs allow parallel processing by running identical operations simultaneously because thousands of control logic blocks are working simultaneously.

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 the user must write every program from scratch. The cost of implementing FPGAs is high.


What is a Microcontroller?

A microcontroller is essentially a tiny computer on its own. The input and output devices are mounted on a small chip, which includes 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 can instruct other components on operating. 

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 the user gives one line at a time.

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

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

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The programming of a microcontroller is made more accessible and less time-consuming.


Main Differences Between FPGA and Microcontroller

  1. FPGAs are best suited for complex tasks requiring high processing speeds, while Microcontrollers are used for simple tasks that do not require high processing speeds.
  2. An FPGA has a high degree of flexibility, allowing a user to reprogram its hardware and firmware. In contrast, a microcontroller has limited flexibility because it only requires the user to reprogram the firmware.
  3. FPGAs can 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.
  1. https://www.mdpi.com/608460
  2. https://openarchive.nure.ua/handle/document/4955

Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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6 thoughts on “FPGA vs Microcontroller: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The author’s clear and detailed comparison of FPGAs and microcontrollers is highly beneficial for those interested in the field of hardware design and programming.

  2. The article effectively highlights the distinctive features and applications of FPGAs and microcontrollers, offering great value for readers seeking an in-depth understanding of these processors.

  3. This article presents an insightful and detailed overview of both FPGAs and microcontrollers, providing clarity on their functionalities and applications.

  4. The article does a great job of detailing the fundamental differences between FPGAs and microcontrollers, making it easy to understand for readers who are new to the topic.

  5. The comprehensive comparison table is particularly helpful for understanding the key differences and applications of FPGAs and microcontrollers. Well done!


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