For every day projects, microcontrollers are low-cost and easy to use. But when you have a project that needs raw power and high speed you may want to check out FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays). FPGAs are like raw chips that you can design by hand. They run very fast and very efficiently. They are designed for mass-parallel execution so they're very good at handling a lot of I/O pins at once, especially for real time video or audio or emulation applications.
FPGAs are also a lot of fun, in that you really get to play with how chips are designed. Unfortunately, we didn't study FPGA's in school and so we missed out on learning how to use them. When we saw this Altera starter pack, we thought it would be a great first FPGA board - compact but not 'bare bones' - at a great price! There's no paper book included, but there is a very detailed Altera FPGA training curriculumthat a student could use as part of a self-taught FPGA adventure.
The package comes with a single DE0 Nano development board, mini USB cable (you can program and power the module over USB) and two CDs with the software necessary to 'compile' and 'upload' code to the board. The software is available for Windows and Linux computers (no Mac)
The module itself contains a nice collection of accessories: