Differences Between The Microcontroller and FPGA

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Differences Between The Microcontroller and FPGA

The modern day technology is highly reliant on a couple of digital devices that are behind the operation of current day systems. While these devices do not work in isolation, they are fundamental and give us some of the most desired aspects such as flexibility and functionality. Two of the most common devices you will find in the digital world today are the FPGAs and the microcontroller, and it is vital to check out their differences. While these two can be used in similar applications, it is prudent to analyze them based on different aspects so that we can get a clear picture of their structure and function to determine which one suits which application best.

What Is An FPGA?

A Field Programmable Gate Array is an integrated circuit that is built using a large number of logical processing blocks. These blocks contain some of the standard digital logic components such as the adders, flipflops, and multiplexers among others. These components are not exclusive to the FPGAs only as they are some of the fundamental pieces required for any IC to process the inputs and generate the desired output. What makes these FPGAs special is that their logic block interconnection can easily be readjusted by the user through a specific language to make the IC perform various functions.

What Is A Microcontroller?

This is an integrated circuit that is just a small computer. It has a specialized processor core, some small memory and a specific number of input/output ports plus a proper functionality. All the functions of this integrated circuit are made possible by some of the standard components you will find in an FPGA such as the multiplexers, flipflops, and adders among others. The interconnections between this device are fixed unlike the FPGA, and a user cannot reconfigure them. However, one can use a language that is familiar with the controller and upload code to the device which will tell it what to do.

From the definitions of these two integrated circuits, they might appear to be similar since they contain the same collection of logic elements but once you get accustomed to the details, you will see otherwise. Read below and check out how these two differ in the different aspects.

One of the things where the microcontroller has an advantage over the FPGA is the ease of use. People who understand the basics of programming in languages such as C, and C++ can write code for any microcontroller board, and the compilers built in it will convert the instructions into machine language and enable the microcontroller to accomplish the said tasks. All the microcontrollers you will come across today will have a program that you can download on the web and use it to code and give instructions to the IC.

Aside from that, microcontrollers are also cheaper than the FPGAs. This is relative and not absolute since you will come across some of them that are costlier than the FPGAs. Once a specific design has been finalized, the production of these chips is cheaper looking at the economies of scale as the manufacturing techniques have been refined in recent years. In that accord, if you wanted to come up with a cool device for your room, you could get a microcontroller and find the desired output devices and then you could instruct the microcontroller to perform your desired function. Comparing this to the FPGAs, it can be related to buying something complicated to perform a small task which is not economical.

Nothing can be perfect, and the microcontroller has its share of downfalls as well. First, the dedicated processor handles most of the things that you ask the IC to do and the fact that everything goes through it creates an undesirable bottleneck. The core may be high speed and contain several paths for multiple processing, but the fact that everything has to go through it means that there may always be some cases where you have to wait for other things to resolve.

Moving over to the Direct Components Inc fpga boards, you will see that the demerit of the microcontroller gives us one of the FPGAs most significant advantage. This device is highly flexible, and this is advantageous to the user who can make any hardware tweaks later on. Looking at it from one perspective, an average user using it can get an excellent multipurpose platform to come up with various designs of all sorts without having to buy multiple devices. From a large-scale company dealing with devices based on FPGAs, they get the advantage of prototyping the design of a specific device before venturing into mass production, something that allows them to perfect on the model and come up with reliable designs.

The flexibility of these devices come at a compromise since they tend to use more power compared to the microcontrollers, something that makes them unsuitable for applications where power is a huge concern. Creating an FPGA meant for a specific role might take a lot of time compared to that of a microcontroller since you will be required to start writing the code from scratch and then begin converting it to machine language. Microcontrollers come in packages that are biased towards a specific application, and this makes it easy to download a suitable program and code the instructions quickly. These are some of the reasons why FPGAs are mostly used on products that are very complicated and have a low demand. Once the demand starts to increase, and mass production becomes a necessity, the output is shifted which leads to the conversion to the ASICs where the cost is less.


Some of the few defining aspects of the FPGA and microcontroller have been highlighted, and one can now safely choose a perfect IC for their specific application based on the characteristics. It all depends on the crucial matters that come into play such as the cost, functionality, and production. No particular rule determines which IC is best suited for the applications and in general, the FPGAs are suitable for the high speed and complicated applications while microcontrollers are best for cases where designs are more straightforward and do not require some of the impressive features seen on FPGAs.


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