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Over the past few years, Chinese hardware company Sipeed has launched a number of intriguing computers and development boards with RISC-V processors, among other things. Now the company says it’s working on something a little different.

Sipeed plans to launch a small handheld game system with a 2 inch LCD display, built-in game controllers, and support for external displays. But the most unusual thing about the system? It’s powered by an FPGA rather than an Intel, ARM, or RISC-V processor.

Most chips are designed with specific features that cannot be changed after they leave the factory floor, and they’re designed to run a specific instruction set architecture (ISA). But an FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) is a type of chip that can be programmed and reprogrammed after it’s manufactured, allowing you to change the way the chip’s hardware functions, effectively changing from one type of processor to another.

This approach can be particularly useful when it comes to game consoles designed to emulate classic gaming hardware, as it opens the possibility of allowing games to run as if they were using the original hardware rather than relying on software emulation. The Analog Pocket, for example, includes two FPGAs that allows it to run classic games without software emulation.

Sipeed says its handheld uses a TangPrimer 25K core board, with a Gowin Arora 5 GW5A-LV25MG121 FPGA. It’s not the highest-performance solution available, so don’t expect to be able to emulate PlayStation or later games, but Sipeed suggests it should be able to handle NES, SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance titles.

The hardware design hasn’t been finalized yet – the company is soliciting input on potential designs on social media. But so far, the FPGA-based retro handheld is expected to feature:

  • 2 inch, 480 x 360 pixel LCD display
  • TangPrimer 25K core board
  • 32MB or 64MB of SDRAM
  • 1,500 mAh battery
  • Size as small as 100 x 50 x 15mm (3.9″ x 2″ x 0.6″)

If that seems a little too small, the company has already said that it’s planning to launch a larger model with a screen size in the 3.5 to 4.5 inch range.

There’s no word on how much the Sipeed retro handheld will cost or when it will be available. But the TangPrimer 25K core board sells for less than $11, so I wouldn’t expect a fully assembled handheld with those specs to be very expensive.

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  1. In your article you imply that this is something new for Sipeed, making an FPGA retro game console. It isn’t really. They have been making FPGA development boards for a few years now and have offered kits for retro gaming with them too.

    I also have no idea why you went for that explanation for what an FPGA is, it does not just allow you to swap instruction sets, that is extremely simplified and doesn’t even accurately describe what it can do. It allows you to implement almost any digital hardware which allows you to implement processors if you want to.

    1. You’re correct that this was an oversimplification – I always struggle with trying to figure out the quickest way to describe what an FPGA is and why it’s something you’d want to use. I’ve updated the article to hopefully clarify that a little bit.

      As for what’s new, I think it’s the fact that this seems to be positioned as a complete, consumer-focused handheld with an FPGA rather than a dev kit.

    1. That isn’t really an issue. It is just one of the things you have to consider when designing something like this. It is a relatively small FPGA anyway and doesn’t really use much power or generate much heat.

  2. It’s nice to see FPGA handhelds becoming more common. It’s a shame the screen isn’t larger, but I’m guessing this is going to be less than $50, so I won’t be disappointed.

    I just recently bought an FPGBC, which is an FPGA clone of a Game Boy Color, with an enlarged IPS screen, and a USB-C rechargable battery. $85. The only downside is that it only plays from cartridges, so you’ll probably invest in a flash cart ($130 for one that offers a real-time-clock).

    Loading games from a MicroSD card is a nice option here.

  3. Be sure to only buy boards with specific FPGA parts that Gowin offers an education software version. I have some early Tang Nano boards with FPGA parts that require the official software (and the license needs to be renewed each year).

    1. That is only an issue with the first tang nano and the 138k. Also the license is free and gives you access to more IP than the education version anyway. Plus Sipeed has a floating license for it.

    1. This is not meant for mister. Mister uses a much larger FPGA with hard Arm cores. This is much too small and lacks the hard processors.

      Instead Sipeed’s up and coming tang mega 138k (not the pro version that is out now, it is meant as a dev board) is meant either as an alternative to mister or to be used with mister instead of the DE10 currently used.