The role of FPGAs is increasing to high-speed and high-end applications. FPGA usage in computer and communications systems has grown in parallel with the number of gates and the hgh-speed capabilities of newer/advanced FPGA devices. Usually FPGA applications are limited by their speed of processing. Now FPGAs are emerging as a likely platform for next-generation embedded circuit board testing and measurement capabilities which can be employed during design, development, manufacturing, and in the field following product launch.

FPGA-Controlled Test (FCT) – Board Tester in Chip

The trend toward FPGA-controlled test (FCT) is a part of the larger shift toward embedded instrumentation as a more effective methodology for validating, testing and debugging circuit boards.

Much of today’s leading-edge electronics technology has simply progressed beyond the reach of legacy, intrusive test technologies such as oscilloscopes and in-circuit test (ICT) systems. Because these legacy methodologies are based on making contact with chips on boards and circuit boards themselves, they are hobbled by the physical nature of probing. The next wave of validation and test technologies – which includes FCT – will be dominated by internal, nonintrusive software-driven embedded instrumentation methodologies.

FPGA Controlled Tester for Circuit Board Testing and DebuggingExternal test and measurement instrumentation, which depends on physical probes to test circuit boards, has performed its tasks admirably, but as complexity and operational speeds have escalated geometrically – while the size of chips and systems has shrunk dramatically – the effectiveness and capabilities of external instruments have eroded accordingly.

Now, the next logical step is to embed the multiple instruments that would make up a board tester into an FPGA and thereby extend the test coverage capabilities of software-driven non-intrusive board test (NBT) and validation even further. FPGA-Controlled Test (FCT) is an effective way to take an inside look at what’s happening on boards and in systems.

Theoretically, the embedded instruments which comprise an FCT board tester will be able to validate, test and debug the devices that are connected to the FPGA. Many different types of instruments could compose an FCT board-tester-in-a-chip.

How FPGA-Controlled Tester (FCT) Works

A key characteristic of FCT is its adaptability. FPGA-Controlled Tester (FCT) follows the IEEE 1149.1 Boundary-Scan (JTAG), and IEEE P1687 Internal JTAG (IJTAG) standards. The instruments and testers inserted in one FPGA may never be replicated exactly the same in another FPGA on a different circuit board. Each FCT board-tester-in-a-chip will likely be different from every other since the configuration of an FCT tester will be dictated by the circuit board design that is being tested and the test objectives of the engineers testing the board. As a result, each FCT tester must be easy to assemble, configure and insert into an FPGA.