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(FPGAs)History of Field-Programmable Gate Arrays[1960-2022]

ByMithila kumanjana

Jul 9, 2023

We’re happy you’re here to learn more about the exciting world of FPGAs! Ready yourself for an exciting tour through the fascinating history of FPGAs. we’ll reveal how these amazing gadgets have revolutionized the world of digital electronics. FPGAs have created a world of incredibly adaptive and flexible circuits because of their humble beginnings and broad use in today’s cutting-edge technologies. Therefore buckle up because we’re going to go on an incredible trip!

Imagine being able to design circuits that can modify their behaviour according to various needs, similar to how chameleons change their colour to blend in with their surroundings.


The magic of FPGAs is that! These fantastic tools have transformed how we create digital circuits and have given engineers and inventors a level of freedom and power never before possible.

Topic list (click to jump)

  1. Digital logic Technologies
  2. PLD
    1. PAL
    2. PLA
  3. CPLD
  4. FPGAs
  5. Comparison of CPLDs, PLDs, and FPGAs
  6. History of FPGA

Birth of Programmable Logic

We need to go back to the 1960s when the idea of programmable logic was just beginning to take shape, to understand how Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) came to be.

Back then, fixed logic gates which were hardwired and difficult to update or modify were used to build digital circuits.

In other words, once the circuit was constructed, it stayed fixed and was unable to adjust to changing demands.


first of all, let’s look at some Programmable Logic Technologies


 large range of devices are accessible for the execution of digital logic architectures. The fixed operation of standard off-the-shelf integrated circuit chips, such as SSI and MSI TTL, is predetermined by the device maker.

To construct a circuit, a user must link various chips in different forms.
Field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), complex programmable logic devices (CPLDs), and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) are examples of integrated circuits whose internal functional behaviour is programmed by the user.

A final customized manufacturing step for the user-defined function is necessary for ASICs. To carry out the necessary operation, a CPLD or FPGA needs user programming.

back to the topic list…

from this article, we only consider programmable logic arrays


Programmable logic devices (PLDs), on the other hand, are revolutionary invention that was developed by innovators like Charles Seitz and Abe Yehuda.

PLDs gave engineers the ability to program their circuits, much like they can change the code of a computer program.

This discovery created an entirely novel world of opportunities since it allowed for the customization and reconfiguration of circuits to meet unique requirements.


The development of FPGAs took a big advance forward with the arrival of PLDs. The flexibility and capacity of PLDs were constrained when compared to FPGAs, although the fact that they could be programmed.

By providing a more adaptable architecture with more programmable logic blocks and interconnects, FPGAs raised programmable logic to a new level.

Consider these blocks as puzzle pieces that can be rearranged and joined in many configurations to produce special circuits.

FPGAs are widely popular in the field of digital electronics due to their enhanced flexibility and adaptability.

basically, PLD has two types of subcategories.PAL & PLA.

back to the topic list…


Programmable Array Logic (PAL), a brand-new class of programmable logic chips, made its public appearance in the field of digital electronics in the late 1970s. In comparison to earlier programmable logic devices (PLDs), PALs brought about a major improvement in flexibility.

Think of a PAL (Programmable Array of Logic) as an amazing device. Two unique keys (the “Fixed OR Gate” and the “Programmable AND Gate”)are contained inside this box. These keys have the ability to open a world of opportunities!

Let’s now examine how their interaction results in fascinating logic. Similar to a keyhole, the Fixed OR Gate can only receive the standard input lines of an AND Gate.

The fact that each AND Gate has not one, but two input lines the, regular line and complementary line.

Imagine the AND Gate as a superhero squad, with the standard input line serving as the team’s regular members and the supporting input line serving as the team’s superpowered members. They collaborate closely, creating

The secret is that each AND Gate connects to an OR Line, resulting in a symphony of logical movements within the PAL. We can integrate and alter many logic functions thanks to our teamwork, which produces amazing results!


In conclusion, the PAL can be seen as a particular type of Programmable Logic Device (PLD). It takes advantage of the Fixed OR Gate and Programmable AND Gate’s magic to construct a variety of logical operations.

It’s like having a hidden box full of keys that can open amazing opportunities in the field of digital logic!

back to the topic list…


Think of a package of amazing puzzle pieces that can be assembled to form amazing logic circuits. We have two unique kinds of puzzle pieces in this box: programmable AND gates and programmable OR gates.

These gates have superhuman abilities, making them like the superheroes of logic.

The programmable OR gates act as captains of the team. They have the ability to use input from various sources and base choices on it. They can combine the information they pick up to answer “yes” or “no.”

The programmed AND gates, however, are comparable to covert agents. They operate in pairs and are quite cunning! Both complementary and normal input lines are included in each AND gate.

They interpret the language of “0s” and “1s” using these lines, and they carry out smart operations.

Here’s where the magic starts to happen! The OR line and the AND gates join forces to form a potent network. They collaborate to build more intricate logic circuits.

We may connect these gates in many ways, much like building blocks, to open up intriguing possibilities.


And what’s this? The combination of all of these incredible gates and their connections is known as a Programmable Logic Array (PLA).

It’s similar to a unique category of logic games that we can design to make many types of intelligent technologies and devices.

The major lesson here is that we can unlock the potential to design more sophisticated logic circuits by combining programmable OR and AND gates. And when we combine them in a PLA, we have a tool that enables us to create amazing electrical creations.

back to the topic list…

Enter the Era of CPLDs

An electronic device known as a CPLD can be configured to carry out particular tasks using digital logic circuits.
A part inside of a CPLD known as a Programmable Logic Array (PLA) is essential to the device’s operation.

Consider the PLA as a puzzle made up of numerous little pieces called gates. Similar to fitting puzzle pieces together to construct different shapes, these gates may be combined in many ways to create various patterns.

We can specify which gates should be connected and in what order by programming the PLA. As a result, we are able to design various logical circuits inside the CPLD.

The CPLD can be programmed to carry out a number of functions, including operating motors, lights, or sensors in various electronic devices.

Additionally, it might be useful when creating robots because you can program the CPLD to direct the robot’s actions, make choices, or even play music!


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back to the topic list…


PLDs had several restrictions, though. Larger and more complicated designs were challenging to implement because of their fixed structure and constrained complexity.

Field-Programmable Gate Arrays, or FPGAs, became important in this situation. FPGAs offer greater flexibility and power, similar to supercharged PLDs.

FPGAs, as opposed to PLDs, may be reprogrammed numerous times, enabling engineers to experiment with different designs and make improvements. FPGAs are appropriate for difficult applications because they offer more logic gates and more sophisticated functionality.

FPGAs are integrated circuits made up of several programmable interconnects and programmable logic blocks. These logic blocks can be set up to carry out a number of tasks, including calculations, logic operations, and memory storage.

The logic blocks can be joined in many ways thanks to the programmable interconnects, resulting in unique digital circuits. FPGAs are unique because of their versatility they can be programmed using specialized software to be customized to meet certain needs.

The configuration information is saved in the internal memory cells of an FPGA when a design is loaded onto it. These memory cells regulate the operation of the interconnects and logic blocks, enabling the FPGA to carry out the required functionality.

FPGAs are extremely adaptive and versatile due to their re-programmability.

FPGAs are used in a variety of industries. (robotics, aircraft, film camera and telecommunications…) For example, FPGAs are used in telecommunications for network routing, encryption, and signal processing operations.


FPGAs are also widely employed in the creation of electronic prototypes and systems. Engineers can quickly test and iterate ideas thanks to their re-programmability without needing to create new chips for each iteration.

FPGAs also have a big impact on the creation of cutting-edge digital systems including high-performance computing, medical gadgets, film cameras and self-driving cars. They are perfect for these applications due to their capacity for handling complicated calculations and parallel processing.

read more…

back to the topic list…

Comparison of CPLDs, PLDs, and FPGAs

Here’s a table comparing CPLDs (Complex Programmable Logic Devices), PLDs (Programmable Logic Devices), and FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays):

AcronymComplex Programmable Logic DeviceProgrammable Logic DeviceField-Programmable Gate Array
Logic CapacityModerate to HighLow to ModerateModerate to Very High
FlexibilityFlexible, can handle complex designsLimited flexibilityHighly flexible
Internal StructureMultiple PLD blocks interconnected by a routing matrixProgrammable AND and OR gatesConfigurable logic blocks and interconnects
FunctionalitySuitable for moderately complex designsSuitable for simple to moderately complex designsSuitable for simple to highly complex designs
ProgrammingRequires specialized software and programming toolsRequires specialized software and programming toolsRequires specialized software and programming tools
Design IterationLess flexible for design changes after programmingLess flexible for design changes after programmingHighly flexible for design changes after programming
Power ConsumptionModerate to LowModerate to LowModerate to High
Application ExamplesTelecommunications, networking, automotive systemsSimple control systems, basic digital circuitsHigh-performance computing, signal processing, complex digital systems

Please note that the table provides a general overview and the actual specifications and capabilities may vary across specific devices and manufacturers.

back to the topic list…

now let’s talk about the key points in the History of FPGA

  • Invention of the FPGA Concept: The concept of FPGA was introduced in the early 1980s by Ross Freeman and Bernard Vonderschmitt, who co-founded Xilinx, the first major FPGA manufacturer. They proposed a new type of PLD that could be programmed by the user to implement any digital logic function.


  • Xilinx’s Introduction of the XC2064: In 1984, Xilinx released the XC2064, the world’s first field-programmable gate array. It was based on the concept of a sea of programmable gates and programmable interconnects, providing greater flexibility compared to traditional PLDs.

datasheet download

  • Advances in Programmability: One key development in early FPGAs was the shift from using fuses for programming to using Static Random-Access Memory (SRAM). SRAM-based FPGAs enabled faster programming times and multiple reconfigurations, making them more user-friendly.

Static Random-Access Memory (SRAM) programming replaced fuse-based programming as an important advancement in early FPGAs.

The ability for many reconfigurations was introduced with the use of SRAM-based FPGAs. By changing the configuration recorded in the SRAM cells, users may simply modify and update the logic circuit.

  • Altera’s Entry into the Market: Altera Corporation (now Intel FPGA) entered the FPGA market in the late 1980s, offering its first programmable logic devices. This marked the beginning of competition in the FPGA industry, further driving advancements and innovation.

After acquiring Altera Corporation in 2015, Intel Corporation created Intel FPGA by incorporating Altera’s FPGA technology into its product line.

  • Growth and Diversification: Throughout the 1990s, FPGA technology advanced rapidly, with larger capacities, improved performance, and increased density. More companies, including Actel (now Microchip Technology) and Lattice Semiconductor, entered the market, expanding the options available to users

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  • Introduction of Design Tools: Alongside FPGA development, design tools specifically tailored for FPGA programming emerged. These tools provided graphical interfaces and hardware description languages (HDLs) to facilitate the design and programming process.

The design tools included Hardware Description Languages (HDLs). Verilog and VHDL are two examples of HDLs, which are specialized programming languages used for modelling digital circuits and systems.

A variety of features, including simulation, synthesis, and place-and-route algorithms, were offered by the design tools. These attributes aided designers in performance optimization, physical positioning of logic components on the FPGA chip determination, and verification of the accuracy of their designs.

  • Industry Adoption: FPGAs gained traction in various industries, including telecommunications, aerospace, and automotive. Their reprogrammable nature and ability to handle complex logic made them popular for prototyping, rapid development, and customization.

FPGAs were also used in situations involving quick development. Their programmability enabled rapid upgrades and iterative design iterations, cutting down on development time and expenses.

  1. In the telecommunications sector, FPGAs were used in wireless communication protocols, digital signal processing, and network routing. They could easily adapt to changing communication standards thanks to their programmability.
  2. FPGAs were utilized in the aerospace industry for data collecting, radar signal processing, and flight control systems. They were appropriate for demanding aerospace applications because of their capacity for real-time processing and advanced algorithms.
  3. Additionally, FPGAs are used in the automotive sector, particularly in areas like infotainment systems, engine control units (ECUs), and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). FPGAs were perfect for incorporating new capabilities and adjusting changing requirements due to their flexibility and re-programmability.

back to the topic list…

In conclusion, there has been considerable advancement in FPGA technology. FPGAs now have greater capacities, faster speeds, enhanced power economy, and specialized features thanks to ongoing improvements. These developments have made FPGAs essential for data collection and research projects, allowing scientists and engineers to solve challenging issues and create ground-breaking discoveries.

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