The Mercury FPGA Prototyping unit – Review

The Mercury FPGA from the side
The Mercury FPGA from the side

A few weeks back I got my Mercury FPGA unit and what a nice little unit it is. The device plugs directly into a breadboard and could potentially be used as a drop-in for through hole PCB projects. When I got the unit I was impressed with it’s overall appearance, they sure packed this guy tight.

The Mercury FPGA unit from the side
The Mercury FPGA unit from the side

Having played with this a bit I can see the usefulness of this device. Here are some of the features.

  • A Xilinx XC3S200A-4VQG100C running with a 50Mhz oscillator
  • Complete with proper voltage regulation @ 1.2v and 3.3v
  • Some 5V tolerant IO pins
  • A USB port for direct programming and power from the USB port
  • A separate ADC with 8 channels linked to the FPGA
  • A couple of switches and a few indicator LED’s
  • You can program through the JTAG interface

You can use the Xilinx ISE design tool to synthesize the project and you can use the Mercury software to upload it to the unit. Just based on the little bit I played with it, it seems to be a very useful unit. It’s great for learning (like I am to a degree) and is well designed and labeled on the PCB. There aren’t a lot of bad things I can say about this device except a couple of minor issues.

Issue one would be the sheer size of it. The unit fits on the bread board but with only one spot left on each side to connect things. This is a very minor issue and they did a good job making it as small as it is with as many pins and size of chips it does have, but having only one remaining pin could be an issue.

Issue two is its price. At $65 USD it’s a but more expensive than some other units out there. That said, they are unique in their pcb profile and the developers have to get paid for their time. My serial number was 147 so with such small batches, it’d be difficult to lower the price point. Hopefully it becomes wildly popular and the price can come down to a point where it can be considered a consumable of sorts.

Anyways, aside from my very minor complaints, this device is pretty cool. I can see all kinds of projects benefiting from a DIP style FPGA unit unlike the others which seem to have an arduino style PCB that makes it difficult to include in a project. I recommend that anyone who is going to learn FPGA’s give the Mercury a shot.

The manufacturers website:

Thanks for reading!