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How to design the Altera FPGA board

FPGAs are semiconductors that can run multiple circuits on a single chip. Altera was one of the first companies to use FPGAs in the mid-1990s and was a leader in the field. By the end of the decade, however, the company was acquired by Intel for $16 billion. Despite this acquisition, the company maintains the Altera brand name and continues to offer a wide range of FPGA products.

Founded in 1983, Altera has grown to be a global leader in programmable logic devices and CAD development tools. Its headquarters are in San Jose, California. Its Quartus II design software provides a comprehensive multiplatform environment for FPGA and CPLD design. In addition, the software features comprehensive design simulation and schematic input.

Altera has released a new series of FPGAs called the MAX 10 family. These are non-volatile FPGAs with on-chip flash configuration memory. These are ideal for embedded and industrial applications. You can download a free Altera FPGA development kit or purchase a subscription to the Altera MAX+PLUS development tools. The subscription includes all software updates for a full year.

The Altera Cyclone FPGA board can be programmed using Quartus software, which you will learn to use in Digital Fundamentals EECT122. Once installed, open the software and select the New Project Wizard in the File tab. Be sure to save a copy of your design to a flash drive. It is not practical to use a college hard drive every time you need to save a project.

What is Altera Used For?

Initially, the company introduced programmable logic devices to make computer chips. This technology soon became a billion-dollar business. Altera carved out a niche for itself as a semiconductor company, focusing on new product development rather than mass production. During the 1980s and 1990s, the semiconductor industry grew at a 15 percent annual rate.

Intel acquired Altera and now forms the Programmable Solutions Group of the company. The company offers an array of advanced IPs for various applications. Altera’s QUARTUS II FPGA solutions are the most affordable high-end FPGA solutions available. Altera also offers a subscription software program that simplifies licensing and maintenance costs. The subscription software includes Quartus II, ModelSim-Altera Starter Edition, and the IP Base Suite. The subscription program costs $2,995 for a node-locked PC license.

Altera’s Quartus II design software supports all Altera devices. It is available as a subscription-based or free Web-based edition. In addition, it features productivity-boosting tools like a virtual simulation environment. Altera also offers ModelSim, a multi-language environment developed by Mentor Graphics. It simulates hardware description languages and includes a built-in C debugger.

Altera’s history is rooted in semiconductor manufacturing. In the early 1990s, the company introduced a chip with ten million transistors, the Altera 10K100. In 1996, the company also introduced MegaCore software and OpenCore, enabling engineers to evaluate the chip’s functions. However, the company downsized its staff due to the slowdown in the semiconductor industry. In June, the company announced an 11 percent reduction in its workforce. At the same time, it authorized the repurchase of up to two million company shares.

Altera FPGA Board Design Flow

Creating applications on an Altera FPGA board is a simple process. First, you’ll create a high-level design for your application during the design phase. This design flow will cover routing, connectivity, and component placement. In the end, you’ll have a functional program.

High-level design process

The High-level Altera FPGA board design flow starts with defining the circuit design. We often do this in a hardware description language (HDL), which is more suitable for larger structures and allows high-level functional behavior.

The use of various simulation methods further complicates the design process. Various techniques include behavioral simulation, which uses pre-synthesis HDL to simulate the FPGA. This simulation method runs the fastest but provides the least amount of information. Therefore, this method is not recommended for complex designs and is not ideal for a first-time FPGA design.

The design separation feature in Altera software allows designers to separate critical functions and allocate them to separate sections of the device. By separating functions using design partitions, the software automatically creates fault tolerance. In addition, by placing these partitions in a dedicated section of the board, designers can ensure that they won’t be interfered with by other logic.

Another feature that can speed up design entry is the use of predefined cores. These predefined blocks can perform a specific function. They can be hard cores within the FPGA fabric or soft cores written in HDL language. Soft cores have lower performance than hard cores, but they are easier to use.

Besides the design, the layout of an FPGA board is also important. It is essential to consider the external parts of the device, depending on the needs and goals of the project. For example, designing external ports for communication and programming interfaces is essential. In addition, it is necessary to ensure that the board is affordable to meet your budget.


The Altera FPGA board design flow involves software that enables the logical design of digital circuits. This software has an intuitive user interface and is easy to use. It uses a configuration file to store all the design information stored in flash memory. In addition, the software offers a simulation function, which emulates the behavior of the components.

The software automatically generates schematic symbols, which is helpful in the FPGA board design flow. However, if you want to customize a symbol, you must know what to include and exclude in your design. In addition, you must follow the fracturing rules and corporate style guidelines when creating your symbols. Also, it’s essential to check whether your symbols are properly assigned to the signal names so that you can make changes when necessary.

The first step is to modify the input pin’s name. For example, you can rename it as osc_clk. Another way to change the pin’s name is to rename it to counter_bus_mux. You must save the project file before moving on to the next step.

Another critical step is to check the number of high-speed peripherals available on the FPGA board. While high-speed ports are essential for specific custom applications, they are also challenging to integrate into a board. Hence, it is best to look for a board with multiple connectors and multiple memory options.

Component placement


A designer can perform component placement and routing on an Altera FPGA board design flow in one step using Quartus II. The program generates a gate-level netlist for use with the Modelsim simulator and a programming file for the FPGA configuration. The program also has tools to automate the flow between Altera and Mentor environments. These tools use Tcl scripts to perform various tasks.

The resulting design is ideal for the PCB process. This means that we eliminate errors, and the process is faster. Furthermore, the co-design tool automatically adds signal names and wires to symbols. This saves days of work and minimizes human error. Moreover, we can easily update the component placement on the Altera FPGA board design flow.

The first step in designing an FPGA board is determining component placement. Some components must be placed on the board, while others should be near the connector interface. For example, small capacitors should be near the FPGA’s pins, while larger ones should be outside the FPGA.

It is also essential to take note of the location constraints. A small placement constraint may prevent the proper placement of a component on the board. In addition, considering the size of an FPGA, the placement of components may require several iterations. By using Quartus II, designers can avoid costly mistakes and focus on the flow of the design.

We can define an FPGA board design flow in two ways: schematic design and hardware description language (HDL). The schematic entry method allows designers to define the design in a high-level functional language. This method is best for large-scale structures where we do the hardware design at a high level. In addition, a schematic entry makes it easier to visualize the design.


When designing an FPGA, there are two main methods: schematic design and hardware description language (HDL). HDL is more appropriate for large structures because it enables the definition of high-level functional behavior. Schematic design, on the other hand, is easier to visualize. Therefore, the process for designing an FPGA starts with the schematic.

Altera Quartus II can be used to help you plan the board’s pin assignments. This software lets you assign the appropriate voltage to each pin and see the current drawn by each pin. Of course, it’s best to stay conservative when determining power consumption. After you’ve created your schematic, you’ll need to assign pin locations to your design.

Routing FPGA designs to PCBs is a challenging process. Most companies don’t spend the necessary money to implement a co-design process for their FPGA designs, which often compromises quality and productivity. In addition, the ever-growing number of pins and I/O standards has made this process increasingly complex.

Optimal I/O assignment speeds up the PCB layout process and reduces errors. Smart pin re-assignment removes overlaps and reduces net lengths. This helps improve quality and reduce costs. In addition, it automatically adds pin swap groups to components and allows re-routing.


The programming flow of an FPGA has three stages. First, we create the netlist in VHDL code. Next, we translate the design into an FPGA bitstream. Then, we store this file on the FPGA’s memory card. Finally, the board connects to a device via USB. From there, the Bitstream file can be helpful to program the board directly.

The final step in the programming process is to check the program on the Altera board. Once the program is running correctly, the LED should turn on. You must go back to step one and try again if it does not. Understanding the design flow will make it easier to work on larger projects. This is because the flow rarely changes, no matter how complex or simple the project is.

Once you have the schematic and logic blocks, you need to map them onto the FPGA. You will then need to connect and route the signals according to the constraints. Then, it’s time to load the design into the FPGA and create a BitSteam file. Finally, you can use the BitSteam file to run the design on your Altera FPGA board.

A crucial step before synthesis and implementation is simulation. This step ensures that the Verilog code is functionally correct. The most common simulator is Modelsim. A test bench is necessary for this step. The coding style for a test bench differs from the one used for synthesis. However, it may not be as restrictive as the synthesizable coding style.

After the design simulation, programming an FPGA can proceed in three stages. First, the designer needs to verify the functionality of the design. Secondly, he needs to check the design’s timing constraints. Third, they should check the power consumption of the FPGA.

ALTERA FPGA Applications

Altera is a semiconductor company that offers FPGAs and other programmable devices. Intel recently acquired it for $16.7 billion in a deal that will create a division within the Intel Corporation called the Programmable Solutions Group. The company focuses on providing high-value solutions for designers of electronic systems. Its products include FPGAs, SoCs, and CPLDs.

ARM Cortex-M1 processor

The ARM Cortex-M1 processor is an industry-standard processor that addresses various FPGA application needs. In addition, the ARM Cortex-M1 processor provides upward compatibility with existing processors and provides a wide ecosystem for developers.

Xilinx is one company that offers the ARM Cortex-M1 processor to developers. The processor is compatible with Spartan, Artix, and Zynq chip designs. In addition to the Arm Cortex-M1 processor, the Xilinx FPGA prototyping board also supports ARM processor cores.

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The real-time lane detection system uses an improved Hough Transform-based lane detection algorithm. It combines gradient amplitude and direction information to extract the lane line and the region of interest. The FPGA and DSP image processing modules work in parallel to realize the lane line extraction and display functions.


Various industries benefit from the flexibility of Xilinx Altera FPGAs, including medical imaging equipment, industrial automation, and diagnostic monitoring and therapy applications. In addition to their versatility, FPGAs meet demanding processing needs in security applications. FPGAs can handle the processing task, whether it’s a security system for an office building, public gathering, or sports event.

There are several key differences between Xilinx and Altera FPGAs, each offering unique benefits. For example, Altera FPGAs are generally more expensive but have a higher performance and power consumption. Xilinx FPGAs also feature more extensive tools, IP, and software support.


Altera is a company that designs and manufactures programmable hardware and software. Intel acquired it in 2015. The company’s programmable solutions help designers and engineers create differentiated, innovative products. The company offers FPGAs, CPLDs, SoCs, and complementary technologies. Its products are used in various industries worldwide.

Altera’s products are ideal for high-speed networks, where cyberattacks pose a severe risk to the security of data and physical resources. To counter these threats, cryptography and authentication are key. In addition, Altera’s product families offer a variety of options for security and privacy.