History of Altera
Altera Corporation has been a leading provider of FPGAs for over three decades. The company was founded in 1983 by four engineers who left Intel Corporation to start their own company. Altera’s first product was the EPROM-based EPF10K10 FPGA. The EPF10K10 was a revolutionary product at the time, as it was the first FPGA that could be programmed in-system. Since then, Altera has continued to innovate and produce FPGAs that have become increasingly popular in various industries.
After the development of the EPF10K10, Altera continued to innovate and expand its product line, releasing additional FPGA models that were faster, more powerful, and more flexible. The company also developed software tools to enable customers to program and configure the FPGAs, making incorporating Altera’s FPGAs into their products easier.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Altera expanded into new markets, such as telecommunications, networking, and automotive. These markets presented new challenges for Altera’s FPGAs, such as the need to handle high-speed data processing and real-time control functions. To meet these challenges, Altera continued to develop new FPGA models with faster processing speeds, more on-chip memory, and improved communication interfaces.
Today, Altera is a leading provider of FPGAs and related products, serving various industries and applications. In 2015, the company was acquired by Intel Corporation, which has continued to invest in and expand Altera’s FPGA technology. Altera’s FPGAs continue to play a critical role in developing new technologies and products, enabling customers to bring innovative solutions to market more quickly and efficiently.
Altera’s FPGA Lines
Altera offers a wide range of FPGA families, each with its own set of features and benefits. The following are some of Altera’s most popular FPGA families:
Stratix FPGAs: Altera’s Stratix FPGAs represent the pinnacle of their FPGA product lineup, offering unrivaled performance and exceptional throughput capabilities. As the high-end FPGA family, Stratix FPGAs stand out by delivering the utmost in terms of processing power and data handling. With advanced features and cutting-edge technology, Stratix FPGAs consistently surpass the competition, enabling engineers to confidently tackle the most demanding applications. Their unparalleled performance makes them the go-to choice for industries that require top-tier processing capabilities.
Stratix FPGAs find extensive use across a diverse range of applications due to their remarkable performance characteristics. In the field of networking, Stratix FPGAs play a critical role by enabling high-speed data processing, ensuring efficient data transmission and seamless network operations. Similarly, in the realm of communications, Stratix FPGAs excel at handling large volumes of data and executing complex algorithms, providing reliable and robust solutions for tasks such as signal processing and encryption. Furthermore, Stratix FPGAs have gained significant traction in the field of high-performance computing, where their immense processing power and parallelism enable acceleration of computationally intensive tasks such as simulations, data analytics, and scientific computations. The versatility and unmatched performance of Stratix FPGAs make them a preferred choice for industries that demand the utmost in processing capabilities and require the highest levels of performance and throughput.
Stratix FPGAs (Image source: Intel)
Cyclone FPGAs: Cyclone FPGAs serve as the mid-range FPGA family, striking a compelling balance between performance, cost-effectiveness, and power consumption. Positioned as a versatile solution, Cyclone FPGAs cater to a broad spectrum of applications with their optimal blend of features. With Cyclone FPGAs, engineers can achieve efficient and cost-conscious designs without compromising on essential performance requirements. These FPGAs have earned a solid reputation for their ability to deliver competitive performance at an affordable price point.
The applications of Cyclone FPGAs span across various industries, reflecting their adaptability and wide-ranging usability. In embedded systems, Cyclone FPGAs excel in providing flexible and customizable hardware platforms for a diverse array of applications, including IoT devices, automotive systems, and consumer electronics. Their ability to integrate multiple functions onto a single device makes them attractive for designers seeking to reduce system complexity and optimize space utilization. Cyclone FPGAs play a vital role in implementing real-time control systems, sensor interfacing, and motor control applications in industrial automation. Their inherent flexibility allows for swift adaptation to changing industrial requirements, offering enhanced efficiency and productivity. Furthermore, in the realm of consumer electronics, Cyclone FPGAs contribute to the seamless integration of advanced features, enabling efficient multimedia processing, display interfaces, and connectivity options. Cyclone FPGAs’ versatility, balanced performance, and cost-effectiveness position them as a valuable choice for numerous applications in embedded systems, industrial automation, and consumer electronics domains.
Cyclone FPGAs (Image source: Intel)
Max 10 FPGAs: Max 10 FPGAs offer a wide range of features and capabilities, making them suitable for various applications across industries. They combine the flexibility of programmable logic with the integration of embedded features, providing a comprehensive solution for system design. It includes an array of programmable logic elements, digital signal processing blocks, embedded memory, and high-speed transceivers, enabling developers to implement complex functions and algorithms efficiently.
One of the key highlights of the Max 10 FPGA is its low-power consumption, making it an energy-efficient choice for battery-powered applications. It also incorporates user-friendly features like on-chip analog-to-digital converters, non-volatile configuration memory, and intellectual property (IP) encryption for enhanced security. The Max 10 FPGA supports various industry-standard interfaces and communication protocols, facilitating easy integration with existing systems and enabling seamless interoperability.
With its versatility, low power consumption, and integration of embedded features, the Max 10 FPGA serves as a powerful tool for a wide range of applications. It finds application in sectors such as industrial automation, automotive systems, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and consumer electronics, enabling developers to implement high-performance and cost-effective solutions to meet their specific design requirements.
Max 10 FPGAs (Image source: Intel)
Arria FPGAs: Arria FPGAs, a distinguished family of low-power Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) by Altera, have set a new standard in energy efficiency within the FPGA market. With an unwavering commitment to power optimization, Altera has designed the Arria FPGAs to consume the lowest power compared to any other FPGA family available. This impressive feat addresses the growing demand for energy-efficient solutions and opens up a realm of possibilities for applications requiring extended battery life and reduced power consumption.
The versatility of Arria FPGAs is reflected in their extensive utilization across a wide range of industries and applications. One prominent area where Arria FPGAs excel is in wearable devices, where compactness and power efficiency are paramount. These FPGAs provide the ideal platform for implementing advanced algorithms and processing capabilities in wearable technology, enabling innovative features such as health monitoring, fitness tracking, and augmented reality experiences.
Intel Arria 10. (Image source: Intel)
Altera has since released a number of successful FPGA families, including the Stratix, Cyclone, and Arria families. The company’s FPGAs are used in a wide range of applications, including:
Telecommunications: Telecommunications equipment such as switches, routers, and modems require high-speed processing and data handling capabilities, making Altera’s FPGAs an ideal choice for such applications. FPGAs allow for parallel processing of data, reducing latency and improving the performance of telecommunications equipment. They can also be programmed to perform various network protocols and encryption algorithms, making them highly adaptable to different telecommunications applications. Altera’s FPGAs can handle large amounts of data while maintaining low power consumption, making them an ideal choice for telecommunications equipment that requires efficient power usage.
Altera’s FPGAs are also highly customizable, allowing for the development of specialized telecommunications equipment that meets specific customer requirements. Altera’s FPGAs can be programmed to support different communication protocols, including Ethernet, SONET, and ATM, among others. They can also be configured to support new standards or protocols, allowing telecommunications equipment manufacturers to easily upgrade their products to support new technologies. As the telecommunications industry continues to evolve, Altera’s FPGAs remain a critical component in the development of high-performance, flexible, and cost-effective telecommunications equipment.
Networking: Networking equipment such as firewalls, routers, and switches require high-speed packet processing and low-latency data transmission to efficiently manage network traffic. Altera’s FPGAs are designed to handle these requirements and provide the necessary performance for networking equipment. With their parallel processing capabilities, FPGAs can process multiple packets at once, reducing the processing time and improving the overall performance of networking equipment. Altera’s FPGAs can be programmed to implement various network protocols and algorithms, allowing for optimized networking equipment. Additionally, FPGAs can be reprogrammed to support new networking standards and protocols, enabling manufacturers to upgrade their equipment without needing to replace the hardware.
They also support a variety of interface standards, making them highly interoperable and compatible with different networking equipment and systems. Alter’s FPGAs support a range of standard communication protocols, including Ethernet, USB, and PCI Express, among others. This interoperability and compatibility allow for the creation of complex network systems that can seamlessly integrate with each other. Altera’s FPGAs provide the flexibility and versatility that networking equipment manufacturers require to develop and deliver high-performance and efficient networking equipment.
Automotive: FPGAs are increasingly being used in the automotive industry due to the need for high-performance computing and real-time data processing. Altera’s FPGAs are designed to handle the complexity and demands of modern automotive applications. FPGAs can be programmed to handle multiple control functions simultaneously, making them ideal for controlling various automotive systems. Moreover, FPGAs can process data from various sensors in real-time, enabling automotive systems to respond quickly to changes in the environment or driving conditions. In engine control units, FPGAs can be programmed to optimize fuel efficiency, reduce emissions, and improve engine performance. In power steering systems, FPGAs can be used to provide precise control of the steering system, improving vehicle handling and maneuverability.
In anti-lock braking systems, FPGAs are used to control the braking system and prevent wheel lock-up, ensuring safe and efficient vehicle operation. Altera’s FPGAs can be programmed to monitor various sensor inputs, such as wheel speed, and adjust the braking force applied to each wheel in real-time. This ensures that the vehicle remains stable during emergency braking situations, preventing skidding or loss of control. Additionally, FPGAs can be used to control other safety systems, such as airbag deployment, collision avoidance, and lane departure warning, providing a high level of safety and reliability in modern vehicles. Altera’s FPGAs provide the performance and reliability required for automotive applications and are increasingly becoming an essential component in modern vehicles.
Industrial automation: Used in machine vision applications, where Altera’s FPGAs are employed to perform image processing and recognition tasks. Machine vision systems are used in various industrial settings to inspect and verify product quality, identify defects, and ensure compliance with industry standards. FPGAs can perform complex image processing tasks in real-time, such as edge detection, color recognition, and pattern matching, enabling highly accurate and efficient machine vision systems.
In addition to robotics and machine vision, Altera’s FPGAs are also used in other industrial automation applications, such as process control, motion control, and data acquisition. FPGAs can be used to monitor and control various industrial processes, such as temperature and pressure control in chemical plants, or to acquire and process data from various sensors and instruments, enabling efficient and reliable industrial automation systems. Overall, Altera’s FPGAs offer a high level of flexibility and customization, making them highly suitable for a range of industrial automation applications.
Medical devices: Altera’s FPGAs are widely used in the medical industry due to their high-speed processing and low power consumption. The application of FPGAs in medical devices, such as pacemakers, defibrillators, and insulin pumps, offers a range of advantages, such as precise signal processing and efficient power management. The customization capability of Altera’s FPGAs enables medical device manufacturers to develop devices that are highly optimized and tailored to specific medical applications. The FPGAs can be programmed to perform signal processing tasks, enabling them to interpret data from various sensors accurately. This feature is crucial in medical devices that require real-time processing, such as pacemakers and insulin pumps.
They are highly reliable and designed to meet rigorous medical device standards and regulations. The use of FPGAs in medical devices has to comply with stringent requirements, and Altera’s FPGAs are tested and verified to meet these standards. The high level of reliability and safety of Altera’s FPGAs make them ideal for use in medical devices that require long-term operation and consistent performance. Altera’s FPGAs provide a highly efficient and reliable solution for medical device manufacturers that require precise signal processing, low power consumption, and strict compliance with medical device standards and regulations.
Altera’s early success was due to the company’s focus on innovation. Altera was the first company to introduce a number of key features in FPGAs, including:
In-system programmable FPGAs: In-system programmable field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) offer a convenient solution, and Altera’s FPGAs specifically, enable programming without the need to remove them from the circuit board. This significant advantage allows for effortless firmware updates to be performed on FPGAs deployed in the field. By eliminating the cumbersome process of physically replacing the FPGA, engineers can swiftly and efficiently modify the programmable logic, ensuring seamless adaptability and improved functionality for various applications. With in-system programmability, Altera’s FPGAs provide a versatile and user-friendly approach to firmware updates, revolutionizing the way these powerful integrated circuits are managed and maintained.
High-speed FPGAs: Not only possess remarkable versatility but also deliver exceptional performance and throughput, rendering them exceptionally well-suited for applications demanding swift and efficient data processing. With their advanced architecture and customizable logic, Altera’s FPGAs excel in high-speed data-intensive environments, particularly in networking and communications domains. These FPGAs can handle the substantial demands of data-intensive tasks, such as routing, packet processing, and encryption, with remarkable efficiency and speed. By leveraging their inherent parallel processing capabilities, Altera’s FPGAs enable seamless data flow, rapid data manipulation, and real-time analytics, resulting in enhanced system performance and optimized throughput. As a result, Altera’s FPGAs have become the go-to solution for industries that rely on high-speed data processing, where their robust performance capabilities enable the realization of advanced networking infrastructure and reliable communication systems.
Low-power FPGAs: Have gained recognition for their remarkable attribute of low power consumption, rendering them exceptionally well-suited for applications that demand extended battery life. In particular, the advantages of low power consumption make Altera’s FPGAs an ideal choice for wearable devices and medical implants. These devices often operate on limited power sources, such as batteries or energy harvesting mechanisms, and necessitate efficient power management to ensure extended usage without frequent recharging or replacement. By leveraging the power-efficient design of Altera’s FPGAs, engineers can optimize the energy consumption of these devices while still delivering high-performance functionality. This combination of low power consumption and robust performance not only extends the battery life of wearable devices and medical implants, but it also enhances their overall usability and reliability, ultimately benefiting users by providing continuous operation and reducing the need for frequent maintenance.
Radiation-tolerant FPGAs: Have the advantage of being available in radiation-tolerant versions, making them exceptionally well-suited for applications that demand reliable operation in harsh and radiation-intensive environments. Particularly in the realms of space exploration and military applications, where exposure to high levels of radiation is common, the availability of radiation-tolerant FPGAs is of paramount importance. These specialized FPGAs are designed to withstand the effects of radiation, including single-event upsets (SEUs) and total ionizing dose (TID) radiation effects, ensuring the integrity and reliability of the system. By utilizing Altera’s radiation-tolerant FPGAs, engineers can develop robust and resilient solutions that can endure the extreme conditions encountered in space missions or military operations. The radiation tolerance feature of these FPGAs enhances the overall system’s longevity, safety, and performance, making them the ideal choice for applications that require unfaltering operation in hostile and radiation-rich environments.
Altera’s focus on innovation has helped the company to become one of the leading providers of FPGAs. The company’s FPGAs are used in a wide range of applications, and they are known for their high performance, low power consumption, and flexibility.
Altera has solidified its position as a leading provider of Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs), encompassing a wide array of FPGA families, each with its unique features and advantages. The company’s commitment to innovation and versatility has made it a preferred choice across diverse industries. Altera’s FPGAs have garnered acclaim for their exceptional performance, making them ideal for applications that demand high-speed data processing and complex computations. Additionally, their low power consumption sets them apart as energy-efficient solutions, aligning with the growing need for sustainability in the technology sector.
Altera’s FPGAs have gained a reputation for their remarkable flexibility, allowing users to reprogram and reconfigure the hardware according to their evolving needs. This adaptability not only saves time and resources but also enables rapid prototyping and quick deployment of solutions. Altera’s FPGAs find extensive applications in various sectors, including telecommunications, automotive, aerospace, and beyond. Their reliability and versatility have enabled transformative advancements in communication networks, autonomous vehicles, and space exploration, among other domains. As a result, Altera continues to be at the forefront of FPGA technology, continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible in digital systems and empowering industries to drive innovation forward.