PAL vs. CPLD vs. FPGA: What are the differences between them?

What is PAL?

The Programmable Array Logic (PAL) is a subtype of the PLA. Similar to the PLA, it includes a sizable, programmable AND plane for ANDing inputs. The fixed nature of the OR plane, however, limits the number of phrases that can be ORed together. The inputs and outputs are enhanced with latching devices, exclusive ORs, multiplexers, and other basic logic elements. It is essential to include timed elements, often flip-flops. Now, a broad range of logic operations, such as clocked sequential logic, may be implemented by these electronic components without the need for state machines. This was an important development that allowed PALs to largely replace conventional logic in many designs. PALs move quite quickly as well.

What is CPLD?

Complex programmable logic devices (CPLDs) deliver exactly what they promise to. They are designed to essentially resemble many PALs that have been integrated onto a single chip and are connected to one another through a crosspoint switch. They can handle more volume and complexity of reasoning since they are built on the same technology, use the same programmers, and use the same development tools.

The FPGA and the SPLD (simple programmable logic device), which are simpler than the CPLD (complex programmable logic device), are more complex, share features with the CPLD. CPLDs are more complex than SPLDs despite being less complex than FPGAs. The most often used SPLDs (generic array logic) are PAL (programmable array logic), PLA (programmable logic array), and GAL.

What is FPGA?

FPGA stands for Field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), It is a type of programmable logic device that can be reconfigured or programmed by the user after manufacturing. FPGAs are widely used in various applications, including digital signal processing, hardware acceleration, and prototyping of digital circuits. Here are some key characteristics and features of FPGAs:

Reprogrammable: Unlike application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) which are custom-designed for a specific task and cannot be changed after manufacturing, FPGAs can be reprogrammed to perform different tasks or functions. This flexibility is a significant advantage, especially in rapidly evolving technology fields.

Logic Elements: FPGAs consist of an array of programmable logic elements, such as look-up tables (LUTs), flip-flops, and multiplexers. These elements can be configured and connected to implement various digital logic functions.

Interconnects: FPGAs have a complex network of programmable interconnects that allow you to create custom connections between logic elements. This flexibility in routing signals is crucial for designing complex digital circuits.

Parallel Processing: FPGAs excel at parallel processing tasks. They can be used to accelerate computationally intensive operations by implementing them in hardware, which can result in significant performance improvements over software-based solutions.

Low-Level Hardware Description: Programming an FPGA typically involves describing the desired logic circuit at a low level using hardware description languages (HDLs) like VHDL or Verilog. This allows for precise control over the hardware’s behavior.

Applications: FPGAs find applications in a wide range of fields, including telecommunications, data center acceleration, digital signal processing, aerospace, automotive, and more. They are often used for tasks like encryption, image and video processing, artificial intelligence (AI) inference, and custom hardware prototyping.

Development Tools: FPGA programming typically requires specialized development tools provided by FPGA vendors, such as Xilinx or Intel (formerly Altera). These tools help designers compile their hardware description into a bitstream that can be loaded onto the FPGA.

Complexity: Designing for FPGAs can be complex and may require expertise in digital design and hardware description languages. However, the availability of pre-designed IP cores and development platforms has made FPGA development more accessible.

Cost: FPGAs are generally more expensive than microcontrollers or microprocessors, but they offer greater flexibility and performance for certain tasks, making them a cost-effective choice for specific applications.

Pros and cons of PAL

PAL (Programmable Array Logic) is an older type of digital logic device that predates more modern programmable logic devices like CPLDs (Complex Programmable Logic Devices) and FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays). PALs have their own set of advantages and disadvantages:

Pros of PALs:

Simplicity: PALs are relatively simple devices compared to more complex programmable logic devices like FPGAs. They are easier to understand and design for, which can be an advantage for less complex digital logic tasks.

Predictable Timing: PALs typically have predictable and deterministic timing characteristics, which can be important in applications where precise timing is crucial.

Lower Cost: PALs are generally less expensive than more modern programmable logic devices. This makes them a cost-effective choice for simple logic functions.

Cons of PALs:

Limited Flexibility: PALs have limited programmability compared to CPLDs and FPGAs. They are typically best suited for simple combinatorial logic functions and have less ability to implement complex sequential logic.

Fixed Architecture: PALs have a fixed internal architecture, which means you must fit your logic design into the available resources and structure of the device. This lack of flexibility can be a significant limitation for complex designs.

Limited Capacity: PALs have a limited number of product terms (AND-OR arrays) and flip-flops, which restricts the complexity of the logic functions they can implement. This limitation can make them unsuitable for larger or more complex designs.

Obsolete Technology: PALs are considered outdated technology, and their availability may be limited. Finding replacement parts or development tools can be challenging.

Programming Challenges: PALs are typically programmed using fuses or anti-fuses, which are essentially one-time programmable (OTP) devices. Once programmed, they cannot be reconfigured or modified, which limits their flexibility for future changes.

Power Consumption: Compared to modern programmable logic devices, PALs may consume more power for equivalent logic functions. This can be a concern in battery-powered or energy-efficient designs.

Pros and cons of CPLD

Pros of CPLD

  • Simple to design
  • Smaller board size
  • It is dependable
  • Ownership cost
  • More sales of the goods
  • The market is reached after fairly brief development cycles
  • Low costs for development
  • Faster creates revenue more quickly

Cons of CPLD

  • CPLD is a more sophisticated programmable logic device than SPLD

Pros and cons of FPGA

Pros of FPGA

  • It is simple to upgrade, similar to how software works
  • Flexible
  • Reusable
  • Errors that are not discovered during design have a significant influence on development time and expense
  • Adjustable computing
  • Low price

Cons of FPGA

  • In applications where power efficiency is important, FPGAs often consume more power than ASICs and microcontrollers.
  • Due to the additional resources they offer for programmability and reconfiguration, FPGAs can be larger than comparable ASICs or microcontrollers.
  • Because they have more resources for programmability and reconfiguration, FPGAs can be larger than comparable ASICs or microcontrollers.
  • In high-volume manufacture, FPGAs may be more expensive than microcontrollers or ASICs. In large volumes, an FPGA typically costs more per unit than an ASIC or microcontroller.


Since both AND and OR planes can be programmed in PLAs, they are more flexible than PALs. PLAs cost a lot to make and have a significant propagation delay because both AND & OR planes can be programmed. PALs are quicker and less expensive than PLAs since they use fix OR gates. Although logic expanders give PALs more flexibility, they cause a significant propagation delay. To create sequential circuits, PALs typically include D flip-flops coupled to the outputs of OR gates. SPLD is the common name for PLAs and PALs.


Two basic blocks—a logic plane and output logic cells—are used to create PALs. PALs typically feature 20 I/O pins, which is a minor number compared to contemporary devices but far more than the many 7400 series ICs needed to accomplish the same task. The greater number of usable gates and I/O pins is a CPLD’s key benefit over a PAL. This enables the use of large, fast logic designs in compact packages.


Complex Programmable Logic Devices (CPLDs) and Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are both types of programmable logic devices used in digital circuit design. While they share some similarities, they are designed for different types of applications and have distinct characteristics. Here’s a comparison of CPLDs and FPGAs:

CPLD (Complex Programmable Logic Device):


CPLDs have a fixed architecture consisting of a large number of small, simple logic blocks (AND/OR gates) and flip-flops.

These logic blocks are interconnected through a programmable interconnect matrix.

CPLDs are more suited for applications with relatively simple logic functions.


CPLDs typically have lower logic density compared to FPGAs, which means they are better for designs with a moderate number of logic gates.


CPLDs offer relatively predictable and fixed propagation delays, making them suitable for applications with strict timing requirements.

I/O Pins:

CPLDs usually have a limited number of I/O pins compared to FPGAs.

This makes them suitable for smaller-scale projects or applications that require fewer external connections.

Power Consumption:

CPLDs generally consume less power than FPGAs, which can be an advantage in battery-powered or low-power applications.


CPLDs are typically programmed using hardware description languages (HDLs) like VHDL or Verilog.

They are often programmed using a one-time programmable (OTP) process.

FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array):


FPGAs have a more flexible architecture with a large number of configurable logic blocks (CLBs) and interconnects.

CLBs can be customized to implement a wide range of logic functions.

FPGAs are well-suited for complex and highly parallel digital designs.


FPGAs offer higher logic density, making them suitable for large and complex designs with many logic gates.


FPGAs can achieve very high clock frequencies and are often used in applications where speed and performance are critical.

I/O Pins:

FPGAs typically have a larger number of I/O pins, which makes them suitable for applications with extensive external connections.

Power Consumption:

FPGAs generally consume more power than CPLDs due to their higher logic density and flexibility. This can be a concern in low-power applications.


FPGAs are programmed using HDLs like VHDL or Verilog, similar to CPLDs.

They can be reprogrammed multiple times, allowing for iterative development and design changes.

Choosing Between CPLDs and FPGAs:

The choice between CPLDs and FPGAs depends on the specific requirements of your project:

Use CPLDs for simpler, lower-density designs with strict timing constraints.

Use FPGAs for complex, high-density designs where flexibility and high performance are essential.

Consider the power consumption, I/O requirements, and programming flexibility when making your decision.

In many cases, FPGAs have become the preferred choice for a wide range of applications due to their flexibility and high-performance capabilities, while CPLDs are still used in applications where simplicity, low power, and predictable timing are paramount.


FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays) and ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits) are both types of digital integrated circuits, but they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics. Here’s a comparison of FPGA and ASIC technology:

FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array):


FPGAs are highly flexible and can be reprogrammed to perform a wide variety of digital logic functions.

They are suitable for prototyping, testing, and low- to mid-volume production where design changes may be required.

Development Time:

FPGAs have shorter development cycles compared to ASICs because they can be programmed and tested quickly.

They are often used for rapid prototyping and for getting products to market faster.

NRE (Non-Recurring Engineering) Costs:

FPGAs have lower upfront costs as there are no significant NRE costs associated with mask creation or manufacturing setup.

They are cost-effective for small to medium production runs.


FPGAs can provide high-performance capabilities but are generally not as optimized as ASICs for a specific application.

FPGA performance depends on the specific device and how well it’s programmed.

Power Consumption:

FPGAs tend to consume more power compared to ASICs with similar functionality because of their programmability and general-purpose architecture.

Unit Cost:

FPGAs have a higher unit cost compared to ASICs for large production volumes because of the overhead associated with programmability.

Design Complexity:

FPGAs are better suited for designs with moderate to high complexity but may not be as efficient as ASICs for extremely complex or power-sensitive applications.

ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit):


ASICs are custom-designed integrated circuits optimized for a specific application or task.

They are ideal for high-volume production and applications where performance, power efficiency, and size are critical.


ASICs can offer the highest performance levels, as they are tailored to the exact requirements of the application.

They can include custom hardware accelerators, specialized instructions, and tailored architectures.

Power Efficiency:

ASICs are highly power-efficient because they are designed specifically for the targeted functionality, eliminating unnecessary components and logic.

Unit Cost:

ASICs have a lower unit cost for large production volumes because of their high level of customization.

However, they have significant upfront NRE costs associated with design, mask creation, and fabrication.

Development Time:

Developing an ASIC is a time-consuming process, involving detailed design, mask creation, and manufacturing steps.

It is best suited for applications with long-term production requirements.


ASICs are inflexible and cannot be reprogrammed, which can be a drawback if design changes are needed.

NRE Costs:

NRE costs can be substantial and include design, mask, and fabrication expenses. These costs make ASICs impractical for low-volume or one-off designs.

Conclusion of PAL vs. CPLD vs. FPGA

PALs are built from two fundamental building blocks: a logic plane and output logic cells. In comparison to modern devices, PALs typically have 20 I/O pins, which is a small amount but far more than the several 7400 series ICs required to carry out the same work. The main advantage of a CPLD over a PAL is the higher number of useable gates and I/O pins. This makes it possible to use big, quick logic designs in small containers.

Because of non-volatile memory, CPLD settings are retained even after a reboot. This is not the case, in contrast to an FPGA, which loads a configuration from an external memory device. If you’re interested in CPLD development, take a look at the Original Cmod or the CoolRunner-II CPLD Starter Board. FPGAs, which have I/O pin counts in the hundreds of thousands and gate counts in the millions, are completely reconfigurable components. This makes it possible to create and test incredibly complex designs, such CPUs. Due to their great degree of configurability, they have much-reduced development costs as compared to the alternative of creating an Application Specific IC (ASIC).

Engr Fahad

My name is Shahzada Fahad and I am an Electrical Engineer. I have been doing Job in UAE as a site engineer in an Electrical Construction Company. Currently, I am running my own YouTube channel "Electronic Clinic", and managing this Website. My Hobbies are * Watching Movies * Music * Martial Arts * Photography * Travelling * Make Sketches and so on...

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