The Latest TinyFPGA Isn’t So Tiny?

Alasdair Allan
3 min readNov 30, 2018

One of the biggest trends in maker hardware over the last couple of year was the apparently unstoppable rise of the FPGA. Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) have come of age. Once viewed as exotic and scary, there are now a number of FPGA boards targeting the maker market and among them is the range of open source TinyFPGA boards built by Luke Valenty.

The latest board in the range is the most powerful yet, the TinyFPGA EX.

A TinyFPGA EX prototype. (📷: Luke Valenty)

“The EX is awesome because it has everything the BX has that makes it great and more block RAM, high performance DSP blocks, built-in HyperRAM, more IOs, way more logic resources, and optional high-speed SERDES. All of this and still fits on a breadboard with plenty of room to spare.”—Luke Valenty

Measuring 0.7 × 2.4 inches, the new TinyFPGA EX board comes in three different variants. All three have 49 dedicated I/O pins and seven shared I/O pins and are built around the Lattice ECP5 FPGA. The board comes with 64MBit of DRAM and 128MBit of SPI flash memory onboard, and has a microSD card slot.

The three available EX configurations.

While the original prototypes of the board had a standard USB jack, the board has now been updated and will ship with a USB-C connector.

The software tool chain used by the board is entirely open source. The Lattice ECP5 FPGA used by the TinyFPGA EX has support for open source synthesis and place and route using Project Trellis, by David Shah, and NextPNR, by Clifford Wolf, wrapped inside SymbiFlow.

Project Trellis: enabling open source tools for the Lattice ECP5 FPGA. (📹: FOSSi Foundation)
The nextpnr FOSS FPGA place-and-route tool. (📹: FOSSi Foundation)
An update on SymbiFlow — a multiplatform FPGA project. (📹: FOSSi Foundation)

“With the work Dave Shah has put into Project Trellis and NextPNR, it is has the largest and most capable FPGA with an end-to-end open source tool chain. Just like the BX, the entire hardware design, gateware, and support software is open source.” — Luke Valenty

The TinyFPGA EX hardware and firmware will also be open sourced after launch. The design files will be released on GitHub under an open source hardware license, while the TinyFPGA bootloader used to provide USB support is already on GitHub and open sourced under the GPL v3.

The prototype of the six layer TinyFPGA EX board, front (left) and rear (right). (📷: Luke Valenty)

The TinyFPGA is in its pre-launch phase on CrowdSupply. With prototype hardware already in the hands of developers, the campaign is expected to launch in the fall.