Intel/Altera or Xilinx: that is the question.

OldDogBlog post 3.

When FPGAs first entered the market, two rival companies were formed and they came to dominate the marketplace: Xilinx and Altera. Intel has since consumed Altera and is slowly erasing the Altera name but I still think of them as Altera. My old dog brain will take awhile to retrain…

When the early FPGAs were introduced the world didn’t yet have Windows as an operating system. Where I worked we had DOS running on IBM PCs. Back then PC hardware was very expensive and most electronic design companies chose PCs over Apple products because PCs offered more bang for the buck than Apple hardware. Xilinx and Altera both followed their intended customer base and introduced DOS programs and later Windows programs.

Neither company offers design tools that work on Apple although both companies now offer design tools that can run under Linux.

Most of the projects I work on now can be done equally well in Xilinx or Intel/Altera parts. There is rarely an instance where the physical parts from one vendor are clearly superior to the other for what I need to do in my day job. But which one to choose?

And what about parts and tools from other, smaller FPGA companies such as Lattice?

For me it boiled down to two things: part cost and tools. In the past when I looked at the offerings from Lattice and others, I flat out didn’t like the tools. Xilinx and Intel/Altera set my expectations regarding tools and the other companies simply didn’t measure up. I also found the non-Xilinx or -Intel/Altera ┬áparts to be more expensive with poorer availability than the parts from Xilinx and Intel/Altera.

And, as most design engineers will tell you, when you have a deadline to meet you default to using the tools and methods you are used to — i.e. personal preference. The learning curve for new tools and parts frequently doesn’t fit into a schedule.

From a MakerLogic perspective, using brand X or I/A is going to be determined more by cost and part features, part availability and some of the other goals of this side business such as education.

But, before settling on brand X or I/A, I need to decide what the first project will be…


Tom Burke

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