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What are Intel Altera Cyclone III FPGA Boards ?

Working with electronics can be an arduous task, especially when it comes to programming. We may not know how or what to code to get the results we want. Luckily, there are boards available that can make it easier by focusing on our design and not worrying about the coding behind it all.

Intel (Altera) Cyclone III FPGA Boards are the most common boards in use today. They usually cost anywhere from $200 – $1000 and we can find them on online shops, and large scale manufacturers like RayMing PCB and Assembly. However, the boards offer a lot of freedom to the programmer, and therefore they cost a lot of money.

It is essential to have a thorough understanding of the components of this board. We take many things for granted regarding electronics, so it is essential to read through this section. The boards are essential in many ways, and each way has its pros and cons.

Before purchasing one of these boards, it is essential to understand and how they work.

What are Intel (Altera) Cyclone III FPGA Boards?

Altera cyclone iii board

These boards are for people who want to program FPGAs. FPGAs are circuits made up of microchips that allow them to do more than regularly integrated circuits. These boards are essential for people who want to make custom circuit designs.

These boards are for design enthusiasts. Some people use these boards simply because they want to experiment with new things, while others use them in their jobs.

These boards are for people who want to make their electronic designs without coding everything from scratch. These boards are essential in many different ways, but some are better than others, depending on users’ needs.

To summarize, these boards are essential for people who want to program FPGAs in their custom designs, whether large or small.

How Do These Boards Work?

These boards comprise an FPGA chip that has been pre-programmed by the manufacturer.

We do the programming using a circuit called a JTAG. The JTAG controls the FPGA and allows us to change what program is running on it.

We can program these boards directly in hardware or software. Most people use the hardware method because it is quicker and takes less computer memory. However, most modern computers cannot handle loading a lot of software. Therefore this is not an option for most users. If you can, try to get a computer with a fast processor and a lot of RAM.

Hardware programming is usually done by connecting the JTAG to a special connector on the board. This is traditionally called a serial connector. The JTAG controls the FPGA chip and brings out different output pins on the FPGA chip. In turn, we connect these output pins to pins on your computer’s circuit board.

For this to work, the motherboard must have a special circuit built onto it to accept the input from the FPGA board. Most boards do, but you still have to be certain that it does. Also, the JTAG cable must have a special JTAG connector on it. There are many types of JTAG cables, so be certain that you know how your cable works before getting started.

Software programming is just as easy as hardware programming. But not all motherboards can handle this type of programming.

Intel (Altera) Cyclone III FPGA Boards features

Configuration, Status, and Setup Elements

Configuration elements can be anything from input and output signals to memory and logic cells. We can use elements to configure the FPGA to do whatever it is we want it to do.

Configuration of these boards is generally easy. We just have to use a JTAG cable or flash our board with a special program using the JTAG connector on the computer. We do configuration with hardware programming, so most people do not have trouble configuring their board.

Status and setup elements are also easy to understand. These elements tell the FPGA what to do. These elements include pins on the FPGA, and they can either be high or low. There is also a test input and a check input which we can use to see if we have configured something correctly.

Setup elements are more sensitive than status and configuration elements. We cannot simply use an input and output pin to tell the FPGA what to do, but we must carefully set up each pin with a particular value. One can do these using configuration elements on the board.

Status elements are simple to understand. One can see this as an input or output. For example, we can see if the pin is high or low by reading the board’s JTAG connector.

Status elements are also easy to understand, but they can become complicated if we set up a pin using configuration elements.

To summarize, these boards have many different configurations that we can use to change what program we are running on the FPGA chip.

Configuration elements are essential for configuring the FPGA with inputs and outputs.

Clocking Circuitry

Clocking circuitry is the circuit that allows the FPGA to continue functioning. In addition, it will enable us to use external clocks that will allow the FPGA to operate at different speeds.

Configuration of the clock circuits is not necessary. But they are essential in configuring the board with different clock frequencies. We do these using configuration elements on the board, which are generally easy to understand once you have read through the user’s manual.

Status elements are also easy to understand. They simply tell us the frequency of the clock.

To summarize, this circuitry allows us to use external clocks.

Clock Frequency Reduction

One can find the clock frequency reduction within the FPGA chip itself. We can configure it using configuration elements on the board. It allows us to change the frequency of our clock using smaller steps.

Hardware programming is necessary for this element, so most people do not mess with it until they have become more advanced users. Status elements are not necessary, but they inform us of the clock frequency reduction status.

To summarize, we use this circuit to change our clock frequency to a smaller value.

The boards have a special input and output for status and configuration elements. We may use a JTAG cable connected to a computer or flash our board with a special program to communicate with the FPGA chip on each board. These boards have different ways of communicating with them, depending on which one you get.

Memory Elements

Memory elements are elements used to store data in the FPGA. Other elements on the board can change this data. There are two types of memory elements: SRAM and ROM. We do not configure memory using the JTAG cable, but it uses configuration elements on the board.

Memory elements can be either SRAM or ROM, and they each have their uses and advantages.

SRAM is useful in storing temporary data that we need, but we will lose it upon turning off the board. This is good for storing data that we want to access every few milliseconds.

RAM is not as fast as SRAM, but it stores more data than SRAM (it can also hold our entire design if we use enough of it). We use this to store information for use for a long time.

Therefore, these boards have a lot of memory elements that we can use to store our data.

We can also use ROM to store our entire design. It is generally used as a backup of our actual design or easily uploads a different design version. Of course, one can also use this to store anything we desire.

One cannot configure SRAM and ROM with the JTAG cable, but one can do it using configuration elements on the board.
To summarize, these boards have memory elements that we can use to store any information we want.

General User Interfaces

User interfaces are the elements that allow us to interact with the board. There are two types of user interfaces: Input and Output.

Input elements are the particular input and output ports that we connect to when we want to talk to or from something else. These user interfaces have different functions, depending on which one you choose.

Inputs come in many different shapes and sizes (literally). They can be simple digital and analog inputs and outputs or even more complicated I2C buses.

Outputs are the special ports that we use to talk to other elements on the board. These can be simple digital outputs or more complicated SPI or I2C buses.

Status elements are the pins that allow us to check if there was an input or output to these ports.

User-Defined Push Button Switches

User-defined push button switches allow us to easily create our buttons on the FPGA chips. These boards have a very convenient way of communicating with these user-defined push button switches on the board. They also have lots of special input and output ports that we can use to tell the FPGA what to do.

User-Defined DIP Switches

DIP switches are user-defined push button switches that we connect to the JTAG cable. We can easily connect them to the JTAG cable to check if the switch is active or not. They come with different prototypes.

User-Defined I2C Switches:

Similar to DIP switches, user-defined I2C switches allow us to check if they pushed or released a switch using the particular I2C interface on each board. Each one has a different way of connecting them to other elements on the board.

User-Defined LEDs:

User-defined LEDs allow us to connect three different LEDs to the JTAG cable of the FPGA board. We can use these as a way to display information or just for decoration. Connecting these user-defined LEDs requires a special method depending on which board we have.

User-Defined Analog Output:

These boards allow us to use an analog output on the FPGA itself directly. For this, we need an external circuit that we can connect to our FPGA board. This circuit has special status elements that we can connect to the analog output port. Analog outputs are beneficial because they allow us to send analog signals directly from our FPGA board to external circuits without using any other circuit.

User-Defined Analog Inputs:

These boards allow us to use an analog input on the FPGA itself directly. To use this, we need an external circuit that we can connect to our FPGA board.

7-Segment Displays

The displays can display information, such as the values of different pins on the FPGA. These displays come in many different sizes and shapes, and some even have LEDs that one can switch on and off. In addition, manufacturers often configure the 7-Segment displays using special user-defined I2C switches. While we connect the 7-Segment display to our FPGA board, we connect the 7-Segment display to the special user-defined I2C switch in a particular way. Thus, it has many different ways of displaying information and many different ways of connecting it to other elements on the board.

The boards have a special input and output for status and configuration elements.

User 7-Segment Display: This seven-segment display communicates with the FPGA with the special I2C port. Manufacturers assign each segment to one of the seven bits in our design. Therefore, we need to send the appropriate data to the proper bit in our design to change the display.

Power 7-Segment Display: This seven-segment display communicates with the FPGA with the particular SPI port. We can change the display by sending a specific status value to the FPGA on the correct bit on a separate oscillator.

Communication Ports and Interfaces

There are many communication ports and interfaces on these boards.

One can configure these communication ports with a special connector. Once we have set up the connector, we can use the port to communicate with other elements on our FPGA board.

Interfaces allow us to communicate with other elements on our FPGA board. Each interface is a particular port with a unique number that we use to identify it, and that we also use it by other switches and pins on our FPGA board. There are many different types of interfaces, all of which have a unique number. We can use some to receive or send data from/to other elements on the board, while others can send or receive data.

There are also special communication boards that can easily connect to one of these interfaces on our FPGA board. Thus, we can use any serial interface to transfer data from our computer to our FPGA board.

High-Speed Mezzanine Connector

Mobile or Mezzanine connectors are connectors that we use to connect to the high-speed mezzanine bus. High-speed mezzanine boards are special boards that allow us to talk to other elements on our FPGA board. These boards contain many different ports that can send various signals, like control signals, status signals, and other data signals.

Advantages of Intel (Altera) Cyclone III FPGA Boards

Altera Cyclone III FPGA Development Kit 

The Cyclone III device family offered by Altera is the most powerful FPGA family. the benefits of using the Cyclone III device family are as follows:

Reduced Cost

FPGA-based boards are perfect for their high cost. Since we use the chips differently, manufacturers often design them differently. This results in a lower cost than using an FPGA from another manufacturer since they modify it for use with these boards.

The family of Cyclone III device also saves in power consumption when compared to other FPGA devices. They have fewer power-hungry components in them, so they consume less power under normal usage.

This also allows them to use more power-restricted systems, like handheld devices or portable computer systems.

Fast Processing Speed

The Cyclone III device family famous for its high processing speed. The family of Cyclone III device can process data at a higher speed than previous FPGA families.

It allows for faster capture of data and fewer errors while capturing data for analysis. This speed also applies to CAD programs, which we use in product design.

Lower Error Rate

The Cyclone III device family includes features that prevent errors from occurring. These features allow for a lower error rate as compared to other FPGA devices.

With the use of soft programmable logic, there is less time spent on configuration and verification. There is no need to verify the bits in the configuration process. Also, there is no need to zero the logic within the configuration cycle. These features reduce time, which results in fewer errors when using these boards.

Lowest-Power 65-nm FPGA

This is the only FPGA in this category that uses a 65-nm technology. The other FPGAs use a 55-nm technology, which makes them slower and less efficient.

Also, Cyclone III has a smaller die size than other FPGA’s. This allows for less power consumption and heat dissipation under normal usage.

Lowest-Power 55-nm FPGA

This is the only FPGA in this category that uses a 55-nm technology. The other FPGAs use a 65-nm technology, which makes them slower and less efficient.

Also, Cyclone III has a smaller die size than other FPGA’s. This allows for less power consumption and heat dissipation under normal usage.

Complete system integration

With the design and production of the boards, users get access to a complete system that they can use for their needs. This includes a motherboard and other components that the user may need for their design. With this, users can create their circuit board and create complete working designs. It also includes a software development kit, which is an essential feature for many users. This includes everything they need to start programming their circuit boards.

Disadvantages of Intel (Altera) Cyclone III FPGA Boards

The Cyclone III device family is the most power-hungry FPGA device. They famous for their high-power consumption under normal usage. This is because of their high processing speed and high amount of logic.

The other boards in this category use less power than the devices in Cyclone III family. While the Cyclone III device family has more power, we can still use them in some applications that need high power.

Cyclone III FPGA boards also require a lot of cooling during use. This is because of their fast-processing speed and a large amount of logic. This extra cooling requires extra energy to operate, which results in their high-power consumption.

We also rate them for use on more advanced boards than other FPGAs. They require more advanced circuitry to function at their full processing capacity.

As a result, their smaller die size also means that we can still use them on less advanced boards. While this may seem like a disadvantage, it is a benefit in some ways. The smaller die size allows the FPGA to be useful on boards that other FPGAs we can’t them on. This gives users more options when choosing what board to use their Cyclone III device family in.

It also means that these boards are for more advanced users who understand how to work with them and program them. This means that manufacturers only sell fewer boards to inexperienced users.

Intel (Altera) Cyclone III FPGA Boards

Some common attributes among these boards include:

  • Made In Japan
  • RoHS compliance
  • Tested all I/O
  • Credit-Card-Size 3.386″x 2.126″ (86 x 54 mm)
  • High-quality six layers PCB. (Immersion gold)
  • Ten-pin socket JTAG Connector for download cable connection
  • Power-on Reset IC
  • Status LED (Power, CONF_DONE)
  • User LED x2
  • User Switch (Slide)
  • 30 MHz Oscillator (50 ppm) or External
  • Configuration Device (Micron, M25P16)
  • 5 V I/O support with Bus switch ICs (Texas Instrument, SN74CB3T3245)
  • 100 I/O PAD 100 mil (2.54 mm) grid
  • The single 5 V power supply operation with on-board 3.3 V,2.5 V, and 1.5 V regulators

[ACM-029] Altera Cyclone III Q240 FPGA board (5V I/O)

Altera EP3C16Q240C8N

  • 20 Global Clock Networks
  • 100 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
  • 346 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
  • 4 PLLs
  • 56 Multipliers
  • 56 M9K Blocks
  • 504 Total RAM KBits
  • 15,408 Logic Elements

[ACM-029Y] Altera Cyclone III Q240 FPGA board (5V Tolerant)

Altera EP3C16Q240C8N

  • 20 Global Clock Networks
  • 100 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
  • 346 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
  • 4 PLLs
  • 56 Multipliers
  • 56 M9K Blocks
  • 504 Total RAM KBits
  • 15,408 Logic Elements

[AP68-04] Altera Cyclone III C25 PLCC68 FPGA Module

Altera EP3C25U256C8N

  • 50 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
  • 156 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
  • 20 Global clock networks
  • 4 PLLs
  • 66 18 x 18 multipliers
  • 594 Embedded memory (kb)
  • 56 M9K memory blocks
  • 24,624 Logic Elements

[AP68-03] Altera Cyclone III PLCC68 FPGA Module

Altera EP3C10U256C8N

  • 50 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
  • 182 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
  • 10 Global clock networks
  • 2 PLLs
  • 23 18 x 18 multipliers
  • 414 Embedded memory (kb)
  • 46 M9K memory blocks
  • 10,320 Logic Elements

[ACM-304Z] Altera Cyclone III Q240 FPGA board

Altera EP3C40Q240C8N (CycloneIII FPGA 40K LE)

  • 56 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
  • 128 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
  • 126 Multipliers
  • 1,161,216 RAM Bits
  • 4 PLLs
  • 39,600 Logic Elements

CycloneIII FPGA 16K LE (Altera EP3C16Q240C8N)

  • 56 Maximum user/consumer I/O pins(Board)
  • 160 Maximum user/consumer I/O pins(Device)
  • 56 Multipliers
  • 516,096 RAM Bits
  • 15,408 Logic Elements

[EDA-004] Altera Cyclone III USB-FPGA board

Altera EP3C55F780C8N (Cyclone III FPGA 55K LE)

  • 156 Multipliers
    • 2,396,160 RAM bits
    • 260 M9K RAM blocks
    • 100 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
    • 377 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
    • 4 PLLs
    • 55,856 Logic Elements

[ACM-018] Altera Cyclone III Q240 FPGA board

Cyclone III FPGA 40K LE (Altera EP3C40Q240C8N)

  • 1,161,216 RAM Bits
    • 126 M9K Blocks
    • 100 Maximum operator/user I/O pins (Board)
    • 535 Maximum operator/user I/O pins (Device)
    • 4 PLLs
    • 39,600 Logic Elements

Altera EP3C16Q240C8N (Cyclone III FPGA 16K LE)

  • 516,096 RAM Bits
    • 56 M9K Blocks
    • 100 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
    • 346 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
    • 4 PLLs
    • 15,408 Logic Elements

[ACM-105] Altera Cyclone III F484 FPGA board

EP3C16F484C8N

  • 56 Multipliers
    • 516,096 Memory(kbits)
    • 56 M9K RAM blocks
    • 128 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
    • 346 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
    • 4 PLLs
    • 15,408 Logic Elements

[ACM-202] Altera Cyclone III F780 FPGA board

EP3C120F780C8N

  • 288 Multipliers
    • 3,981,312 RAM bits
    • 432 M9K RAM blocks
    • 296 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
    • 531 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
    • 4 PLLs
    • 119,088 Logic Elements

EP3C80F780C8N

  • 244 Multipliers
    • 2,810,880 RAM bits
    • 305 M9K RAM blocks
    • 296 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
    • 429 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
    • 4 PLLs
    • 81,264 Logic Elements

EP3C55F780C8N

  • 156 Multipliers
    • 2,396,160 RAM bits
    • 260 M9K RAM blocks
    • 296 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
    • 377 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
    • 4 PLLs
    • 55,856 Logic Elements

[ACM-203] Altera Cyclone III F484 FPGA board

EP3C55F484C8N

  • 156 Multipliers
    • 2,396,160 RAM Bits
    • 260 M9K RAM blocks
    • 262 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
    • 328 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
    • 4 PLLs
    • 55,856Logic Elements

EP3C40F484C8N

  • 126 Multipliers
    • 1,161,216 RAM Bits
    • 126 M9K RAM blocks
    • 262 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
    • 331 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
    • 4 PLLs
    • 39,600 Logic Elements

EP3C16F484C8N

  • 56 Multipliers
    • 516,096 RAM Bits
    • 56 M9K RAM blocks
    • 262 Maximum user I/O pins (Board)
    • 346 Maximum user I/O pins (Device)
    • 4 PLLs
    • 15,408 Logic Elements

Conclusion

The Intel (Altera) Cyclone III FPGA Board is a useful device that we can use in many ways. For example, they can be useful for people who want to mess around with new ideas or for people who want to implement and test new and exciting designs. These boards comprise an FPGA chip that has been pre-programmed by the manufacturer.