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Not-as-expensive FPGA Boards

I haven't done a poll in a while so I thought it would be fun and instructive to do one about less-expensive FPGA boards.  One of the challenges of getting into FPGA design is that the boards are usually a lot more expensive than a Raspberry Pi or a microcontroller board from ST, NXP, or TI.  This may prevent people from giving FPGAs a try, which in turn makes the boards more expensive since they're manufactured in smaller quantities.


Still, if you look around there are some nice boards under US$100 and even under US$50.  I highly recommend Joel Williams' list of Cheap FPGA Development Boards.


Here are some boards available for US$50 or less that seem particularly interesting.  I've used the Papilio One and iCEstick myself.


  • Gadget Factory Papilio One 250K: This is one of my favorite boards and IMO a very good value at US$38.  It has a Xilinx Spartan-3E 250K, 48 I/Os on headers, and a JTAG programmer.  It's currently out of stock, but you get its "big brother" with a 500K part for US$65.

  • Generic Cyclone II board: Two years ago Michael Kellett wrote a nice 'blog about a US$15 Altera Cyclone II board available from Chinese distributor AliExpress.  It's an impressive board, except that it doesn't come with a programmer.  Michael was able to get a bundle with a programmer for just under US$50.

  • Lattice iCEstick:  At US$22 from some vendors, this is the least expensive FPGA board I know of that includes a programmer.  It has a Lattice iCE40 1K LUT FPGA, which is a small FPGA -- maybe a fifth the capacity of Papilio One 250K.   On the other hand, iCE40 is the only FPGA that has a fully open-source tool chain.


  • Numato Labs Mimas: At US$35, Numato's Mimas is the cheapest Spartan 6 LX9 board I've seen with a programmer.  It has a lots of I/O on headers, along with some LEDs and push-buttons.  Numato is based in India, so I don't know what shipping is like.  Numato also has Mimas V2 for US$50, which adds 64MB DDR SDRAM, VGA connector, and 3-digit 7-segment display but much less general-purpose I/O than Mimas.  And they also have the US$30 Elbert V2 with a 50K Xilinx Spartan 3A and I/O similar to Mimas V2.


  • Scarab Hardware miniSpartan3 is a small Xilinx Spartan 3A board with a 50K or 200K part for $30 or $40, including an on-board programmer.  I've never dealt with Scarab personally.  The miniSpartan3 is a nice size to incorporate into other projects and has lots of general-purpose I/O.


So which one do you like best?  Or is there another not-as-expensive FPGA board you prefer?  If you have experience with any of these boards or vendors, please comment.

Poll Results
  • Gadget Factory Papilio One 250K (8%)
  • Generic Cyclone II board (8%)
  • Lattice iCEstick (8%)
  • Numato Labs Mimas (50%)
  • Scarab Hardware miniSpartan3 (8%)
  • Other - please leave a comment (17%)


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