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MCU Guy, Meet FPGA; FPGA, Meet MCU Guy

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Tony_25
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What FPGA and software to for learning
Tony_25   4/26/2016 4:38:47 PM
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Hi Max,

I've done so work with FPGAs in the past, but I've never worked with VHDL or Verilog.  Do you have any suggestions for an inexpensive development board and software that I could buy to use for learning? 

Thanks,

Tony

perl_geek
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Parallela board?
perl_geek   4/26/2016 5:58:19 PM
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This board http://www.parallella.org/ has an FPGA on it. Is it suitable for experimenting?

As a software type with a morbid fear of letting the magic blue smoke escape from actual kit, as opposed to virtual things, I've been wondering if I could do anything useful with one.

elizabethsimon
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Re: What FPGA and software to for learning
elizabethsimon   4/26/2016 6:55:27 PM
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As far as I know, all the major FPGA vendors have development software that is free to use for their smaller devices. And there are inexpensive evaluation boards available for smaller FPGAs. For example:

Lattice semiconductors has an ICEstick evaluation kit for $21.86

there is also the BeMicroMax10  (Altera Max 10) for $30 and a similar board for Altera Cyclone V for not much more.

One of the biggest difficulties is choosing which vendor you want to start with. because learning how to use the development software is half the battle.

 

betajet
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Re: What FPGA and software to for learning
betajet   4/27/2016 12:57:25 AM
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I like iCEstick, but it's very hard to find a vendor that stocks it.  iCEstick has a Lattice iCE40 FPGA, which is the only one I know of that has an open-source tool chain.  The open-source sofware is fast and simple to use, though a bit of a bother to install.  I run it on GNU/Linux, including on an ARM SBC.  Try doing that with standard vendor tools!

iCEstick and the iCE40 are a great way to get started and discover if you want to pursue FPGAs.  However, its iCE40-HX1K is a pretty small part and you may run outgrow it quickly.

For a larger board, I recommend the $38 Papilio One 250K, which has a 250K gate Xilinx Spartan-3E FPGA.  Spartan-3 is a nice, clean architecture and the 250K gate part is very powerful.  The board brings out 48 I/Os so you can hook up a lot of external circuits to it.  You do need to use Xilinx software, but the free-as-in-beer version is fine.

iCEstick and Papilio One both have on-board USB devices for programming the chips.  iCEstick plugs directly into a USB A port, or you can use an extension cable.  Papilio One just needs a USB A to USB mini B cable.  The USB port provides power.

Duane Benson
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Re: What FPGA and software to for learning
Duane Benson   4/27/2016 1:49:31 PM
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I've got a couple of Papilio boards and found them a very good platform to learn on. I even designed a multi-sensor shield to sit on top of it, with everything needed for a typical robot navigation system. I haven't had them out of their anti static bags for a while though.

Clive
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Re: What FPGA and software to for learning
Clive"Max"Maxfield   4/27/2016 4:24:18 PM
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@Tony: ...Do you have any suggestions for an inexpensive development board and software that I could buy to use for learning?

Elizabeth Simon gave a good answer in response to your question -- the problem here is that new boards appear on the scene all the time, so this is a moving target.

Elizabeth also made a really good point -- learning each vendor's tools is 1/2 the battle -- so if you think you will be using FPGAs in real-world systems at some sttage, you might want to look at the various FPGA offerings from folks like Altera, Lattice Semiconductor, Microsemi, Xilinx... so see which vendor hits your hot buttons with regard to capacity, performance, power, cost, etc. ... and then look for a low-cost development board from that vendor.

 

Clive
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Re: Parallela board?
Clive"Max"Maxfield   4/27/2016 4:29:56 PM
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@perl_geel: ...This board http://www.parallella.org/ has an FPGA on it. Is it suitable for experimenting?...

This is an interesting board -- it combines a Zynq FPGA (which itself boasts a dual 32-bit ARM Cortex-A9 processor and programmable fabric) with a 16-core Epiphany RISC SOC that offers an array of 16 ultra-low-power floating-point CPUs. The end result is pretty much an individual supercomputer.

But I'm not sure this is something you want to use to learn all about FPGAs. If you want to get away from hand-crafting the programmable fabric, you could create your design in C and then use high-level synthesis to target the programmable fabric.

Have you seen Adam Taylor's Amazing Abstractions articles over on Embedded.com?

perl_geek
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Re: Amazing abstractions
perl_geek   4/27/2016 4:51:30 PM
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I hadn't. It will be perused. Thank you for the reference.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Amazing abstractions
Max The Magnificent   4/27/2016 4:53:33 PM
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@perl_geeik: It will be perused. Thank you for the reference.

I live to serve LOL

elizabethsimon
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Re: What FPGA and software to for learning
elizabethsimon   4/27/2016 5:30:41 PM
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@ Max  ...you might want to look at the various FPGA offerings from folks like Altera, Lattice Semiconductor, Microsemi, Xilinx... so see which vendor hits your hot buttons with regard to capacity, performance, power, cost, etc. ... and then look for a low-cost development board from that vendor.

Actually, it might be better to do a search for boards using the vendor's parts. As the Papilio borads show,the best low-cost boards might be made by someone other than the vendor whose parts you are targeting. I completely missed the Papilio boards in my quick search. The Xilinx Spartan-3 series of parts is well worth considering as an introduction. Powerful enough to do real work but not so many features that you get lost trying to figure them out. Plus, if you learn the Xilinx tools, you may find the other vendor's tools easy to use in comparison. LOL

 

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