Chapter 2. A Brief History of Programmable Platforms
You may think that writing software for programmable hardware is a relatively new phenomenon, but the history of programmable hardware and related design tools is nearly as long as the history of the microprocessor. In fact, if you consider that researchers at companies including IBM, Intel, Texas Instruments, Harris Semiconductor, and others were experimenting with general-purpose computing using the earliest forms of programmable logic arrays as far back as the late 1960s, it's not much of an exaggeration to claim that the use of programmable hardware for creating what are essentially software applications may actually predate the birth of the microprocessor, which is generally accepted to have occurred in 1970 with the release of the Intel 4004.
In this chapter we'll present a summary of the developments that have led to today's most prevalent programmable hardware platform, the field-programmable gate array (FPGA). We will also present a short history of the design tools that have evolved during this time and, in doing so, show that a gradual convergence of software and hardware design methods has been in progress for a great many years.
Keep in mind that FPGA-based computing platforms are evolving at a rapid pace. Our goal in this chapter, then, is not to describe the current state of the art in such platforms, but instead to show how we have arrived at where we are today.