FPGA boards under $100: Introduction

Whether engineer, hobbyist, or maker, we’ve happily watched as chipmakers and third parties alike have come to their senses in recent years and cooked up a smorgasbord (smorgasboard?) of low-cost microcontroller devboards – in some cases, very low cost, like TI’s $4.30 MSP430 board. More recently, we’ve seen ARM Cortex kits for $10-$50, the flowering of the whole Arduino ecosystem, and of course, the Raspberry Pi, starting at $25. It’s microcontroller heaven.

FPGA boards under 100 Introduction

Those of us wanting a cheap “in” to the FPGA world have been less lucky. But the times, they are a changin’. Many FPGA devkits, from both chipmakers and third parties, have broken – or downright shattered – the $100 barrier, opening the door to low-cost FPGA prototyping, education, hobby projects, and so on.

Follow me as I explore this brave new world of affordable FPGA learning and design. I’ve acquired a representative selection of bargain-priced boards, and will be reviewing each, not just on paper, but by actually creating projects with it.

Are you excited yet? I am!

You’ll find a summary of the boards below, but first, we need to come up with fun, interesting, maybe even (gasp!) challenging projects to port to each board in turn. Here are a few of my ideas, but I’m hoping you can suggest some more:

  • A bleep-bloop box, creating strange and complex sounds in response to user input
  • A dual-modulus divider
  • A very simple oscilloscope
  • An AM/FM/frequency-hopping signal generator
  • A “chip melter” project that does nothing except exercise as much of the FPGA as possible at as high a frequency as possible. Will the IC overheat or the PSU fail? Stay tuned.

Here’s a summary of <$100 devboards, organized by FPGA manufacturer. The ones in [brackets] are not in my pile, but are included for your reference:


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