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Introduction to PLD (Programmable Logic Devices)

What is a Pal/Gal/Pla? What is their main use?

They are programmable electronic components that can be used to build digital circuits. The complete family is called PLD (Programmable Logic Device).

Their main use is to minimize the amount of digital integrated circuits required for a certain application, and thus lower the cost and size of a board.

Which type of circuits can be built into a PLD?

Generally, it’s possible to synthesize any digital circuit which can be written as a sum of products (minterms) and some sequential circuits, with complexity depending on the type of device.

What are the advantages and disadvantages in comparision with TTL/CMOS ICs?

They typically allow reducing cost and space in boards. Also, in some PLDs the logic can be reprogrammed multiple times, which would be impossible in a hardwired logic circuit. The disadvantages are mainly that it needs a programmer, an environment to write the equations, and is harder to simulate them.

Which are the differences between PAL, PLA, GAL, CPLD?

They mostly have differences in their internal structure. For instance, PLAs are more flexible because they allow the programming of the AND and OR matrices, while PALs can only have their AND matrix programmed. This makes the latter ones cheaper, but with more limitations regarding the maximum amount of minterms per output. GALs are similar to PALs, but with the possibility of erasing and reprogramming. CPLDs are programmable logic devices that join different programmable cells, so more complex circuits can be implemented, typically with complex state machines or problems that can’t be solved fast in microcontrollers.

Which language are they programmed in?

Typically, a high-level language such as CUPL or ABEL is used, which allows the user to write the logic equations, and then it gets compiled (using minimization and optimization steps) to a JEDEC file, which has the information regarding which internal fuses should be burn. A free IDE is WinCUPL by Microchip (ex Atmel).

How can the chip be programmed?

A programmer is needed. Since most programming timings and sequences aren’t available for free, most DIY programmers can’t support them, only the commercial ones do. Most PLD also need a higher voltage (around 15 V) to enter programming mode.

Where can it be bought? What’s the typical cost?

They can be found in most electronic stores, the cost varies between model. For example, the GAL16v8 can be bought for around a dollar.

How can a certain pin be configured as input?

Depending on which software you use, by accessing the variable linked to that pin, it should work as an input. Also, if you never assign any value to it, it should stay in high impedance/input mode. If you want the low level details, you can look in the datasheet where it says that the required control bits are SYN=1,AC0=0,AC1=1 to enable dedicated input for a pin.

Examples of PLD applications

  • Code converter, for instance from binary to gray code.
  • BCD to 7 segment converters, supporting A-F letters
  • Quadrature decoders and counters
  • Parity checkers, checksums, and error detection and correction
  • Different types of counters and registers
  • Memory and I/O controllers for microprocessors
  • Lookup tables

How to implement a table in CUPL?

With this method one avoids having to do all the table, K-Map and equation finding manually, it’s possible to let the compiler handle it automatically. For instance, this code showcases that:

Device  g16v8 ;

PIN [13..19]=[S0..6];
PIN [2..5]=[E0..3];

FIELD inputs = [E0..3] ;
FIELD outputs = [S0..6] ;

TABLE inputs => outputs {
	0=>7E;    1=>30;    2=>6D;    3=>79;
	4=>33;    5=>5B;    6=>5F;    7=>70;
	8=>7F;    9=>73;    A=>77;    B=>1F;
	C=>4E;    D=>3D;    E=>4F;    F=>47;
}

This video shows the simulation of the code, with a binary counter and a clock signal as input:

Is there any alternative with more capacity?

If a more complex application needs to be implemented, it’s possible to use a CPLD or FPGA. The first one is composed of different blocks, each one resembling a simple PLD. They are usually programmed using the same languages as PLD. In the case of FPGAs, the architecture is different and they tend to have a high number of simple logic cells, which can be interconnected in many different ways. They can fit quite complex designs, such as a microprocessor. Typically used languages for FPGA programming are Verilog and VHDL.

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