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What is Altera FPGA Development Board?


Altera FPGA development boards provide a platform for designing, prototyping, and testing projects using Altera field programmable gate arrays. This article explores the features of Altera FPGA boards, how to program the FPGAs, example projects, and the overall capabilities they offer for digital design.

Overview of Altera FPGAs

Altera was a major FPGA vendor that was acquired by Intel in 2015. Their FPGAs include:

  • Stratix Series – High performance FPGAs with transceivers for demanding applications.
  • Arria Series – Mid-range FPGAs balancing capability and cost.
  • Cyclone Series – Low cost, high volume FPGAs suitable for consumer products.
  • MAX Series – Tiny, low power FPGAs in compact packages.

Key capabilities of Altera FPGAs include:

  • Configurable digital logic blocks for implementing custom functions
  • Embedded memory blocks like RAM, ROM and FIFOs
  • Digital signal processing (DSP) slices to accelerate math
  • High speed I/O and transceivers up to 28 Gbps
  • PLLs, oscillators, and clock management circuitry
  • Hard IP for functions like PCIe, Ethernet, ARM cores
  • Partial reconfiguration for dynamic logic adaption

This rich set of resources enables Altera FPGAs to meet requirements across a diverse range of applications and industries.

Altera FPGA Development Kits

Intel (Altera) Cyclone V FPGA Boards

Altera offers a number of development boards that are designed as general purpose prototyping platforms for their FPGAs:

DE Series – Entry-level boards focused on university education and Maker projects. Low cost with Cyclone IV FPGAs.

MAX Series – Small form factor boards for embedded and IoT designs. Feature MAX 10 FPGAs.

Arria V GX – Mid-range FPGAs like Arria 10 in a desktop form factor with comprehensive I/O.

Stratix 10 GX – High-end boards with large Stratix 10 FPGAs, transceivers, and peripherals.

SoCKit – Boards optimized for Altera SoC (FPGA + ARM CPU) devices.

These span from low-cost introductory boards to full-featured platforms harnessing the largest Stratix 10 FPGAs. Multiple versions exist with different I/O configurations.

DE-Series Overview

The DE-Series boards provide an affordable introduction to FPGA development with Altera:

  • Cyclone IV FPGA up to 35K LEs
  • Onboard USB Blaster for programming
  • 10/100 Ethernet, SDRAM, switches, LEDs
  • ADC/DAC, VGA, RS-232 interfaces
  • 7-segment displays, LCD header
  • GPIO headers with access to all FPGA signals
  • Audio in/out, PS/2, SPI, I2C peripheral interfaces
  • Altera SoC FPGA prototyping header
  • Fan, temperature sensor, clock source
  • Wide 5V and 3.3V power supply inputs

The Cyclone IV FPGAs have enough logic and I/O for meaningful designs while the peripherals enable building practical embedded systems. Support materials like tutorials, lab projects, and documentation aid learning FPGA development.

MAX 10 FPGA Development Kit

Key attributes of the MAX 10 development boards include:

  • MAX 10 FPGA in compact 10M08 or 50M08 packages
  • Onboard USB programming and power
  • 16MB SDRAM, 16MB serial flash memory
  • 10/100 Ethernet PHY with RJ45 port
  • Mini USB-UART and SPI interfaces
  • Accelerometer, temperature sensor
  • GPIO header exposes all FPGA signals
  • LCD header, LEDs, dip switches
  • Rotary encoder knob with debouncing
  • Audio out 3.5mm jack
  • Card edge connectors for broader use
  • 7V-15V wide input voltage range

The self-contained boards are ideal for portable, battery-powered electronics projects. The low power MAX 10 FPGA is suited for embedded applications like IoT edge nodes, robotics, or for prototyping Altera SoC designs.

Arria V GX FPGA Development Kit

Moving up to more capable FPGAs, the Arria V GX Dev Kit contains:

  • Arria V GX FPGA up to 1.5 million LEs
  • Two banks of external DDR4 memory; optional QDRII+ memory
  • 1GB DDR3 SDRAM and 128Mb flash
  • Analog to Digital Converter
  • PCI Express edge connector (x8 Gen2)
  • SMA, RJ45, USB, RS-232, and GPIO interfaces
  • Altera Video and Image Processing (VIP) suite support
  • Variety of daughter cards for enhanced I/O capabilities
  • System console for interacting with FPGA

Leveraging a mid-range Arria V series FPGA, this full-featured board suits more demanding designs needing lots of memory, fast I/O, and processor peripheral interfaces for creating embedded systems.

Stratix 10 GX FPGA Development Kit

On the high end, the Stratix 10 GX FPGA Dev Kit provides:

  • Large Stratix 10 FPGA with up to 9 million LEs
  • External parallel flash, DDR4, and QDRII+ SRAM
  • Onboard coherent ARM Cortex-A53 processor
  • Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, RS-232 interfaces
  • Analog-to-Digital Converter
  • Support for PCI Express, memory interfaces
  • High speed transceivers up to 28 Gbps
  • SD card interface for storage
  • Advanced clocking features like chip-to-chip & backplane LVDS

A robust platform for the dense, high performance Stratix 10 FPGAs. Ideal for streaming data, networking, and military/aerospace applications needing lots of fast I/O, DSP, and programmable logic.

Programming Altera FPGAs

Altera FPGAs are configured and programmed using the Quartus Prime design software:

  1. Design logic gates and RTL code in Quartus Prime or SystemVerilog
  2. Import IP cores for complex functions like processors
  3. Synthesize design to map code to FPGA logic elements
  4. Assign I/O pins and interfaces using the Pin Planner
  5. Verify timing, power usage, make optimizations
  6. Generate a programming file (.sof)
  7. Use programming tool like USB Blaster to load .sof into FPGA

Quartus Prime provides a unified environment for synthesis, place and route, debugging, and programming Altera devices.

Pre-made example projects with source code are provided for most Altera dev boards to help with initial programming. Frameworks like Qsys also simplify integrating peripherals like Nios CPUs into custom designs.

Getting Started with an Altera FPGA

A quick start guide for an Altera development kit like the DE10-Standard:

  1. Install the Quartus Prime Lite design software which is free
  2. Connect the FPGA board using the provided USB cable
  3. Launch Quartus and open an existing sample project
  4. Click on the Programmer tool to detect the FPGA
  5. Check Pin Planner shows the correct device
  6. Click Start to program the .sof file into the FPGA
  7. Interact with the design using switches, buttons, and LEDs

The onboard peripherals like displays and Ethernet make it easy to verify functionality of the programmed logic. More advanced debugging can be done with SignalTap for logic analyzer, debugging cores like Platform Designer, or JTAG probes.

Example FPGA Projects

Altera Cyclone IV FPGA

Some example projects to help get started with an Altera development kit:

  • Blinking LEDs – Basic project flashing the onboard LEDs
  • 7-Segment Displays – Display numbers by driving the 7-segment displays
  • Buttons and Switches – Read button presses and toggle LEDs
  • PWM and servos – Generate PWM waveforms to drive RC servos
  • SPI flash – Store and retrieve data from onboard SPI flash chips
  • Video filters – Apply real-time video effects to VGA output
  • Nios II system – Deploy a Nios II soft processor and create embedded C programs
  • DDS waveform generator – Generate analog waveforms like sine waves using DDS
  • Interval timer – Implement an adjustable periodic timer for blinking LEDs
  • SPI ADC readout – Use the SPI interface to read analog input data
  • UDP data logger – Send sensor measurements over Ethernet to log remotely

The wide range of peripherals on the development kits enables building practical embedded systems showcasing FPGA capabilities. More complex projects are also possible by combining FPGA programmability with ARM-based SoC chip integration.

Altera FPGA Development Kits – FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about working with Altera FPGA development boards:

How are Altera FPGAs programmed?

Altera FPGAs are programmed by loading configuration data in the form of SRAM object files (.sof) generated by Quartus Prime. These are loaded via USB Blaster, JTAG, or passive serial modes.

What tools are used to develop for Altera FPGAs?

The Quartus Prime software provides a complete IDE for FPGA programming and logic design. The free Web Edition has all features needed. ModelSim or other simulators can also be used.

What programming languages can target Altera FPGAs?

In addition to vendor specific languages like AHDL and VHDL, standard languages like Verilog, SystemVerilog and C/C++ can also be used with Altera FPGAs.

How are Altera FPGAs debugged?

Internal signal states can be probed using the SignalTap analyzer. More advanced scenarios use Platform Designer for system-level debugging. External logic analyzers can also connect to I/O pins.

How are Altera FPGAs updated remotely?

Partial reconfiguration enables updating just a portion of the FPGA remotely over a network link while the rest continues operating. This allows field upgrades.


Altera (now Intel) FPGA development boards provide a feature-rich platform for evaluating and prototyping designs with Altera FPGAs. Their DE-Series, MAX 10, Arria V, and Stratix boards span from entry-level use up through high performance applications. Onboard peripherals and interfaces enable building practical embedded systems while the Quartus software offers a comprehensive environment for FPGA programming. With an abundance of guides, projects, and documentation available, the development kits allow smoothly getting started with Altera FPGAs.

ALTERA FPGA PCB Assembly Project

ALTERA FPGA PCB Assembly Project

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