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Microcontroller Vs FPGA: What are their Differences and Similarities?

A microcontroller shares some similarities with a field programmable grid array (FPGA). However, some differences exist between both programs. While both are basically integrated circuits embedded in devices and products, there are some evident differences between these two. Electrical engineers and hobbyists use FPGA and microcontrollers.

These two items can be programmed in such a way that they can perform some particular functions. However, each of these items is ideal for use in different applications. FPGA users can program its hardware immediately after manufacture while microcontrollers can be customized in a higher level. Furthermore, microcontrollers are capable of reading one line of code once which FPGAs can only handle parallel inputs.  

FPGAs are much more difficult to program and expensive since they enable a higher level of customization. On the other hand, microcontrollers are easy to customize and cost-effective. There are more differences between these two integrated circuits. Knowing their differences helps you decide what is suitable for your project. Read further to know their differences and similarities.

What is a Microcontroller?


A microcontroller can be described as integrated circuits or a small computer which features similar elements with other computers. It has a central processing unit (CPU), output devices, and some random-access memory (RAM). However, it is different from a desktop computer which is capable of running various programs.  A microcontroller is a special-purpose device that can only carry out one program at a time.

It can perform one function repeatedly or at a user request. Microcontrollers are usually embedded in other devices, irrespective of the type of product. Also, this small computer can run on low energy and as such  its power consumption is in milliamps. Due to its low power consumption, a microcontroller is very affordable. However, the device the microcontroller is embedded in can vary in cost.

Microcontrollers are being used in our everyday life. They are everywhere. These small computers or integrated circuits are embedded in various devices like consumer devices, medical devices and other types of devices. They are embedded in consumer devices like fax machines, monitors, copiers, keyboards, telephones, printers, microwaves, microwaves, and more.

Also, microcontrollers are commonly embedded in devices such as car engine control systems, implantable medical devices, traffic lights, and power tools. Each microcontroller serves a specific purpose. It can use a feedback control system to operate automatically just like the ones used in traffic lights. Also, it can as well function at user request like pressing a button or flipping a switch. A good example of this is your washing machine and microwave.

What is a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA)?

A field-programmable gate array functions in a much more complicated  manner compared to a microcontroller. In an FPGA microcontroller, a chip is usually pre-programmed. Therefore, users can change software, but can’t change the hardware. Therefore, users can configure the hardware after purchase.

FPGAs are useful for prototyping  application-specific integrated circuits. Intel makes use of a form of FPGA microcontroller as this helps in streamlining the prototyping process. FPGAs are also embedded in devices and these devices can be altered without any need for a new hardware.  

FPGAs comprise an array of integrated circuits. These arrays are programmable logic blocks. FPGAs aren’t usually configured to serve a particular function at the point of manufacturing. Users can decide to configure and reconfigure it as they want. The configuration process involves using a hardware description language (HDL). FPGAs come with logic blocks which users can combine with interconnects.

The FPGAs used today feature a lot of RAM blocks and logic gates in order to enable complex computations. The hardware description languages used in configuring or reconfiguring the IC are Verilog and VHDL. An FPGA has memory components which include simple flip-flops and complete memory blocks.

What are the Similarities Between Microcontroller Vs FPGA


Microcontrollers and FPGAs serve similar basic functions. These items are developed in such a way that a manufacturer or end-user can determine how they function. FPGAs and microcontrollers serve some particular functions and are designed to be embedded within other devices or products. These two integrated circuits are versatile and as such they are widely used in different applications. These integrated circuits make everything easier thanks.

Microcontrollers and FPGAs have similar appearance. These two integrated circuits are flat  iny chips with several programmable pins.  Basically, they are small computers, specially programmed to serve distinct function.  Therefore, both integrated circuits can’t function as a personal or desktop computer. They rather follow commands to carry out a function at various levels of complexity.

There are other basic similarities between a microcontroller vs FPGA.  The basic components of FPGA and microcontroller are similar. A microcontroller and an FPGA function by using binary and computer logic.

An integrated circuit comprises semiconductor materials. It is capable of storing data and performing calculations. This circuit can make use of an analog or a digital technology. Some FPGAs can switch from analog to digital technology. Digital technology integrates binary logic.


In terms of customization, microcontrollers and FPGAs can be programmed after manufacture. This means that an end-user or a manufacturer can customize their function and as well embed them as required. FPGAs can be customized to a large extent and as such they are ideal for complicated applications. However, a microcontroller is more suitable for simpler applications.

What is Difference Between Microcontroller vs FPGA?

Microcontrollers and FPGAs are different in terms of their level of complexity and customization. Also, these two integrated circuits vary as regards ease of use and price. Basically, an FPGA enables better customization and retroactive changes to hardware. The process of customizing an FPGA is more complex. Therefore, an FPGA microcontroller user requires more knowledge and skill.

Microcontrollers are very easy to use and are less costly. It is an ideal option for most beginners or hobbyists. However, FPGAs are more suitable for engineering companies. Another difference between an FPGA and a microcontroller is that a microcontroller has a fixed hardware structure while an FPGA doesn’t.

FPGAs comprise logic cells alongside interconnects which can be programmed by making use of HDL coding. Since FPGAs aren’t predefined, users can alter them based on their applications. On the other hand, microprocessors have no fixed hardware structure. This indicates that the processor, connections, memory, and peripheral devices of microprocessors are predefined.

Also, you can easily program the process to carry out a defined task.

Characteristics of Microcontrollers

Microcontrollers feature some characteristics which make them distinct. These characteristics include:

Ease of use

A microcontroller is very easy to use. This is why beginners and hobbyist prefer to use microcontroller. To program a microcontroller, you only need a to have a basic understanding of coding. Also, you can integrate an assembly language such as python or Javascript to program a microcontroller. Coding language like Javascript is very easy to learn through online courses.

Ideal for simple applications

Microcontrollers can carry out simple tasks and as such are suitable for simple applications. For example, when using a laundry machine, you only need to make two or three settings and you are good to go. Also, a computer mouse can only interpret some inputs like right click, scroll up, left click, and scroll down. Therefore, a microcontroller is embedded in such devices.


Since microcontrollers are very easy to produce in large quantities, they are less expensive than FPGA. Therefore, they are ideal for use in some applications. Also, they are a perfect choice for hobbyists.

Characteristics of FPGAs

Requires skill to integrate

It isn’t easy to program an FPGA. Users need skill to program FPGA. You don’t only need a knowledge of a coding language, but the skill to track large amounts of variables. Furthermore, you need a understanding of a hardware description language (HDL). Therefore, this isn’t an ideal option for beginners as they can’t redesign and redesign hardware.

Enable Parallelism

There are thousands of logic blocks in an FPGA. All of these logic blocks can be programmed based on your needs. You can create processes without anyone depending on one another.

Higher level of customization

One of the characteristics of FPGA is that it enables users to do more. Also, FPGAs offer a greater level of customization. This means users can program more complicated processes. Therefore, an FPGA is allows more customization than a microcontroller.

Suitable for complex applications

FPGAs are designed for parallel processes. They allow you to integrate more inputs without having any issues. Therefore, FPGAs are suitable for complex applications.


FPGAs are more expensive than microcontrollers and as such they aren’t cost-effective.

Enable alteration

After the initial programming of an FPGA hardware, you can still make changes. This allows users to easily change the function of a device without the need to replace its hardware. Therefore, this is beneficial for mass-producing industries.

Which is Better for PCBs: Microcontroller or FPGA?

fpga design

PCBs have conductive layers and such require connections. However, more connections are required if a PCB has more conductive layers. For instance, a six layer board features more conductive layers than a two-layer board. PCB assembly requires technical know-how and skill. Either FPGAs or microcontrollers can be used in circuit boards based on certain factors.

Level of complexity

FPGAs can perform several lines of code and as such, enables parallel processes. This is crucial for highly advanced applications. Also, an FPGA is capable of performing simultaneous operations and handling more complex inputs. However, FPGAs need more accuracy and timing to function appropriately. A little mistake can mess up the whole system.

Microcontrollers, on the other hand, is capable of reading one code at a time. They only process commands one by one. In as much as this can result in bottlenecking problems, there are advantages. Microcontrollers are very easy to reprogram and program. An FPGA can make a simple task more complicated. Repairs will be more complicated if there are any mistakes during an FPGA programming.


When choosing between an FPGA and a microcontroller, an important factor you need to consider is cost. FPGAs are usually more expensive than microcontrollers. Therefore, if you want to program something simple like a temperature sensor, a microcontroller is a better option. FPGAs are usually expensive at the initial cost, but their expenses reduce later, particularly when they are produced in large quantities.

Level of expertise

A beginner doesn’t need an FPGA since it is very complex to program. Assembly languages are much easier to learn than Hardware Description Language. Since FPGA require a higher level of customization, users need more technical skill. FPGAs are ideal for engineers and designers since it offers then a good level of customizability.

Retroactive alteration

Sometimes, you have to alter your application’s hardware for some reasons. In such cases, an FPGA will be a good choice. FPGAs allow retroactive alteration and as such, is highly preferred among several industries.

Microcontroller Vs FPGA Power Consumption

Microcontrollers consume less power compared to FPGAs. The high power consumption of FPGAs is a major concern for engineers. One major problem of FPGAs is that they can go beyond their power limitations and as such aren’t ideal for all applications.

Furthermore, FPGAs are suitable for prototyping and emulation. However, they aren’t as efficient as some components. Due to the unused transistors in FPGAs, they consume high power. Also, extended signal paths increase the consumption of power.

 Microcontrollers consume less power than FPGAs. Most microcontrollers have power-saving or idle modes. Therefore, they are a perfect choice. While some microcontrollers feature sleep currents below 1 µA. It is impossible to find an FPGA that has low power requirements. The majority of FPGA systems integrate a microcontroller on the PCB for power efficiency.


FPGA and microcontroller are integrated circuits commonly integrated by hobbyists and engineers. Microcontrollers are very easy to use and are less costly. It is an ideal option for most beginners or hobbyists. However, FPGAs are more suitable for engineering companies. Microcontrollers can carry out simple tasks and as such are suitable for simple applications. Also, FPGAs offer a greater level of customization. This means users can program more complicated processes.

We have discussed a lot of differences and similarities between microcontrollers and FPGAs. With this information, you can now choose which is suitable for your project.




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