There are a lot of FPGA development boards out there to buy. Official vendor boards with the latest advanced devices on it can easily cost several thousand Euros.
Hobbyists and makers are more interested in FPGA development boards within an affordable price range (roughly << 100 $/€). The logic resources and feature set of the FPGA devices on these boards is not that important on the other hand. The main application for makers/hobbyists is small projects and self-learning, I assume, and not rolling out their own 5G equipment.

There are already a lot of affordable entry level FPGA boards available and more are being released every year. The one thing missing on these boards is usually gigabit transceivers (GT’s). Of course the cheapest FPGA devices do not come with pricey extras like GT’s, but is the price difference really that big?

So I started to search for low cost FPGA devices which include GT’s. I only looked at the three major vendors: Xilinx, Intel/Altera and Lattice. I tried to focus on the latest FPGA families in the low cost segment. The prices from Mouser are as of December 2019 and are valid for single quantity purchase.

Intel/Altera Cyclone IV GX EP4CGX15 with two 2.5 Gbps GT’s
Xilinx Spartan-6 XC6SLX25T with two 3.2 Gbps GT’s
Xilinx Artix-7 XC7A12T with two 6.6 Gbps GT’s
Lattice ECP5 LFE5UM-25 with two 3.2 Gbps GT’s

The comparison shows that Lattice is the first choice when aiming for a low cost FPGA with GT’s. The prices are only from one distributor and only for single quantities, so the price sample must be taken with a grain of salt.
Interestingly the old Spartan-6 is much more expensive than the newer Artix-7.

However, there are other aspects to consider than just the price and transceiver speed, e.g. if a PCIe endpoint IP is available for free or not (the same goes for all IP cores utilizing the GT’s). Without the support of IP cores and tools the GT’s won’t be any good anyhow.

An interesting board announced on CrowdSupply right now is a new member of the TinyFPGA series, the TinyFPGA EX with a EX85-5G FPGA. This one will have two GT’s with up to 5 Gbps. Looking at the board layout it’s not clear to me if the full capability of the GT’s will be usable in the end, because there are only plain pin headers for board IO, no BNC or F-conncetors.
The end user price has not been announced yet. Let’s wait and see what the GT’s are going to cost in a “commercial” product.


References:

  1. https://www.mouser.de/Search/Refine?Keyword=LFE5UM-25&Ns=Pricing%7C0
  2. https://www.mouser.de/_/?Keyword=XC7A12T&Ns=Pricing%7c0&FS=True
  3. https://www.mouser.de/Intel/Semiconductors/Programmable-Logic-ICs/FPGA-Field-Programmable-Gate-Array/_/N-3oh9p?P=1yy6lwuZ1y9hztvZ1yy1mfxZ1yy1mdnZ1yy1mfwZ1yy1mcsZ1yy1mcqZ1yy1mcp&Ns=Pricing%7C0
  4. https://www.mouser.de/datasheet/2/225/FPGA-DS-02012-2-1-ECP5-ECP5G-Family-Data-Sheet-1022822.pdf
  5. https://www.xilinx.com/support/documentation/data_sheets/ds180_7Series_Overview.pdf
  6. https://www.mouser.de/datasheet/2/612/cv_51001-1098989.pdf
  7. https://www.mouser.de/Xilinx/Semiconductors/Programmable-Logic-ICs/FPGA-Field-Programmable-Gate-Array/_/N-3oh9p?P=1y8eeklZ1y8efd7&Keyword=XC6SLX25T&Ns=Pricing%7c0
  8. https://www.xilinx.com/support/documentation/data_sheets/ds160.pdf