FPGA-based embedded systems are extremely effective. This is due to the several advantages that field programmable gate arrays come with, including reprogrammability and the use of a single chip. In this article, we explore this topic further, underlining the profound role of FPGA design in such devices. We encourage you to read on!

FPGA in Embedded Systems Explained

First, let us briefly explain field programmable gate arrays. These are semiconductor devices that are configured through logic blocks and programmable interconnects. They can be classified into several groups, each of them having its own advantages and disadvantages.

If you want to learn more about FPGA itself, read our article dedicated to this topic: What Is an FPGA? Field Programmable Gate Array.

The Advantages of FPGA-Based Embedded Systems

After this short intro, we may proceed with presenting the role that FPGA plays in embedded system design. For that, we shall focus on the advantages of such a solution, as they are the best proof of why FPGA lets you create efficient and effective final products. So, what are these pros?

Low Energy Consumption

FPGA-based embedded systems are much more energy efficient than their counterparts based on other solutions. A typical flash-based FPGA static power consumption is 75 µW. Surely, the most basic microcontrollers may use up less energy, starting from 40 µW, but it all depends on the type of MCU used, and some may still match FPGAs while offering less in terms of efficiency. But when compared to CPUs or GPUs, FPGAs are undoubtedly the winners.


Another vital advantage of FPGA design for embedded systems comes with the fact that the field programmable gate arrays are reprogrammable. Engineers can add or change installed logic elements and functions even after installation, which gives you more flexibility, both during the design phase and after launch.

In the end, this translates to savings, as with FPGAs, you need fewer resources to prepare prototypes and test your products, and any potential errors can be corrected quickly.

High Data Processing Speed

Due to their parallel functionality, embedded systems based on FPGA offer extremely quick data processing. Different parts of the field programmable gate array can analyze separate chunks of data, thus accelerating the process.

This is especially important in devices that need to work on real-time or near-real-time data. Microprocessors and microcontrollers are simply incapable of handling information so quickly, which often makes FPGAs the only viable solution.

High-Level Code Synthesis

Modern FPGAs support standard programming languages, like C or C++. As a result, engineers can prepare code in a more traditional environment and then simply transfer it to an FPGA. This further reduces the costs of the whole development process and makes it much quicker.

Lower Need for Peripherals

Since the I/O interfaces of embedded systems based on FPGAs are configured in the software, engineers can avoid including additional I/O hardware. As a result, the overall costs of the whole system drop, and it’s possible to complete and launch devices more quickly, as you do not have to order or design extra hardware.

The Role of FPGA in Embedded Systems – Are They Really So Great?

As you can see, FPGA-based embedded systems come with numerous advantages. Yet, such a design also has its flaws.

The first obvious one is that FPGA embedded system development requires more effort than, for instance, an MCU-based one. After all, the FPGA has to be programmed for the whole device to function.

Secondly, the customization capabilities of the FPGAs are a double-edged sword – on the one hand, they give you more control over the functionality of your device, but on the other, one FPGA design will suit only a certain embedded system, and you need to repeat the development process for other types of devices.

Finally, despite reducing the costs of hardware or letting you profit earlier on, due to a faster go-to-market, FPGA designs can sometimes be quite expensive. This does pay off in the long run, yet makes it crucial for you to invest more in the beginning.

Yet, in spite of all those downsides, FPGAs are still critical for real-time data processing, present, for instance, in automobile embedded systems. Add to that the fact, that they offer the highest efficiency and a decent energy consumption, and you can see their significance – without FPGA-based design, we wouldn’t have had many devices that we do have nowadays.

The Takeaway

To sum this article up, FPGA design is critical for creating modern, efficient and customized embedded systems. Its main benefits are flexibility and reprogrammability, along with extremely fast data processing, which can be utilized in devices that need to operate on real-time information.

FPGA embedded system design also comes with advantages for businesses. Their flexibility makes testing and debugging easier, enabling organizations to launch their products faster and eliminate any potential post-release issues at a software level. Therefore, despite their cons, FPGAs are essential in the embedded world – without them, many devices would not be invented, and the price of many others would be much higher than it is.

If this article sparked your interest, then we have a recommendation for you – read our article on microprocessor vs. microcontroller and learn more about the other processor options for embedded devices.