Why Does FPGA Form Factor Matter?

Why Does FPGA Form Factor Matter?

For electronics, the conventional definition of form factor is the size, shape, and physical features or specifications of electronic hardware components. Hence, every item of hardware within a computer, IoT device, and all other electronics products is built with considerable thought given to the form factor of these physical elements. For example, in the industrial sector in which the sizes of deployed hardware matter, Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) form factor or hardware memory must be taken into consideration. 

FPGAs are semiconductor devices built to be configured by the end-user to meet diverse applications requirements. FPGA-based systems are crucial to capturing electronic and signal data from industrial equipment. Their importance in the field of electronics is attributed to the design flexibility and modular nature of the average FPGA. First, its hardware design flexibility provides the user with the choice of a versatile microprocessor for diverse electronic items. Second, due to their versatility, FPGAs are a key component for modular systems, which can take advantage of them to flexibly control a wide variety of other electronic components. Hence, a discussion of the FPGA board form factor must take into consideration its design, its support for complexly designed components, and what standard connectors it provides to fit onto, screw into, or snap to.

oblique image of zedboard

The Importance of FPGA Form Factor

Moving to specifics, imagine trying to fit the display drive of a laptop onto the relevant driver slot on an industrial tablet. It will be obvious to everyone that the laptop’s drivers can’t fit into the smaller space allocated within the tablet. So, even though the hardware specifications of the drive may be accurate, the form factor remains a crucial element that must be considered when building electronic components such as this. 

Hardware manufacturers and DIY enthusiasts must understand the form factor combinations when designing electronic items for commercial or industrial use. Thankfully, standardization rules exist to assist hardware designers with choosing components with the right form factor. Deciding to use a development board to meet FPGA and DSP design requirements provides a level of flexibility that supports iterative design. So, if a mistake is made, the user can simply restructure the development board or change the components on it to meet the new requirements. 

Considering the form factor of a development board also eases the process of upgrading electronic frameworks when expansion is required. Planned upgrades mean the user may have to change computing resources such as solid-state drives, computer memory, USB ports, etc. Similarly, the development board with a form factor that supports expansions empowers the designer to make changes without having to purchase a new electronic device. 

For example, the need for connectivity when developing an interconnected framework of industrial equipment is crucial to implementing Industry 4.0 business models. To move to a smarter arrangement that eases data collection, traditional digital signal processors (DSPs) that rely on the analog I/Os must be upgraded to offer digital I/O capabilities through support for wireless or Bluetooth connectivity. Implementing such a change using DSPs will involve having to purchase advanced DSPs from scratch and designing them to fit into or onto the equipment. 

Using a development board to meet the requirements of a DSP simplifies the task of upgrading the DSP to support a smarter facility. New features or components such as USBs, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi drives can be added to the development board and configured with ease. The provided support for operating systems and software libraries within these development boards ensure the configuration process is generally seamless. 

The form factor flexibility FPGA solutions bring to the table enhances Industry 4.0 applications by allowing diverse smart devices and edge hardware to integrate electronic data collection features. Hence, a Greenfield facility with hundreds of IoT devices in different shapes and sizes can re-engineer development boards to meet each unique specification of its IoT framework. The cost of re-configuration process development boards in terms of hardware and software comes at a much lower cost when compared to other options such as purchasing multiple DSPs to manage electronic data.

Flexible FPGA Solutions with Digilent

Form factor and design flexibility are key considerations when developing electronics for industrial applications. Choosing the correct form factor for your FPGA or using a development board ensures you can implement upgrades with ease. It is also recommended that you assess the form factors of the electronic data collection hardware you purchase to ensure they fit and can be upgraded. For more information on our products and how we can help, check out our Systems Boards and Components page.

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