Programmable logic device

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A programmable logic device or PLD is an electronic component used to build reconfigurable digital circuits. Unlike a logic gate, which has a fixed function, a PLD has an undefined function at the time of manufacture. Before the PLD can be used in a circuit it must be programmed, that is, reconfigured.

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Using a ROM as a PLD

Before PLDs were invented, read-only memory (ROM) chips were used to create arbitrary combinational logic functions of a number of inputs. Consider a ROM with m inputs (the address lines) and n outputs (the data lines). When used as a memory, the ROM contains 2m words of n bits each. Now imagine that the inputs are driven not by an m-bit address, but by m independent logic signals. Theoretically, there are 2m possible Boolean functions of these m signals, but the structure of the ROM allows just 2n of these functions to be produced at the output pins. The ROM therefore becomes equivalent to n separate logic circuits, each of which generates a chosen function of the m inputs.

The advantage of using a ROM in this way is that any conceivable function of the m inputs can be made to appear at any of the n outputs, making this the most general-purpose combinational logic device available. Also, PROMs (programmable ROMs), EPROMs (ultraviolet-erasable PROMs) and EEPROMs (electrically erasable PROMs) are available that can be programmed using a standard PROM programmer without requiring specialised hardware or software. However, there are several disadvantages:

  • they are usually much slower than dedicated logic circuits,
  • they cannot necessarily provide safe "covers" for asynchronous logic transitions so the PROM's outputs may glitch as the inputs switch,
  • they consume more power,
  • they are often more expensive than programmable logic, especially if high speed is required.

Since most ROMs do not have input or output registers, they cannot be used stand-alone for sequential logic. An external TTL register was often used for sequential designs such as state machines. Common EPROMs, for example the 2716, are still sometimes used in this way by hobby circuit designers, who often have some lying around. This use is sometimes called a 'poor man's PAL'.

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