My laptop is sprouting hardware. For once, it's quite a good-looking bit of hardware -- it's an FPGA-based USB iCEstick from Lattice Semiconductor.
If you have followed Crusty in the past, the FPGA hardware hanging off his laptop computer is generally a Xilinx Spartan 3E running on a Papilio One development board and homebrew Vero board shields.
Well the Papilio One boards are great kits, but I do worry about my experiments causing the operational gray smoke to escape from my board. The pocket money I can allocate to my electronics hobby projects is limited, so you can imagine my enthusiasm, when I saw a flyer in my e-mail inbox informing me that the iCEstick is now available at Farnells (Element14) for less than £20, including tax. Now imagine Crusty performing a Happy Dance (almost as well as EE Times editor Max Maxfield). The bottom line is that I just had to spend my pocket money on an iCEstick. The order went in about two months ago and finally it has arrived.
Packaged USB iCEstick FPGA development board from Lattice Semiconductor.
So, I said to Max: "How about me blogging about my experience of livening up the little 'Iced Gem'?" (this is an English pun for those as old as me; click here to discover what an Iced Gem actually is.)
What draws me to the iCEstick? Well, it has 0.1 inch socket connectors, which are great for bread boarding. Also, the iCEstick is set up to use plug-in Pmod accessories, such as those from Digilent. The unpopulated 0.1 inch pads provide extra I/O and power connections, which means the iCEstick is well-endowed in the I/O department for such a small board.
I like this 0.1 inch connector approach, as it quickly opens up the board to my world of breadboards and patch pins. The Pmod range of accessories looks great, but unless there is a Fairy Godmother somewhere out there who wants to buy them to me, I'm going to have to hack my own Vero board accessories for the time being.
So let's get started unpacking and powering-up the board. This is so easy -- you just open the two halves of the plastic package and read the instructions on the back of the packing card, which are short, sharp, and to the point as follows:
- Go to www.latticesemi.com/icestick to learn all about the kit; download demos, documentation, and software.
- Plug the iCEstick Evaluation Kit into your USB port.
So first I performed Step 1 and downloaded two files: iCEcube2_2013-08_Win.zip and 126.96.36.199_Programmer_x64.zip. These seem to be the two main programs I require to get started; I can add more later if I need them. Be aware that you will need to be registered with Lattice to get to all the download areas. Also, you will require a fast Internet connection and plenty of spare hard disk space.
I loaded these programs onto they fast Windows 7 desktop computer in my attic workshop. I use my laptop to communicate with the desktop via a remote terminal link. I do this because the desktop runs the "big bloat" programs associated with electronics development faster -- it has masses of memory, a very fast disk, and no virus checker enabled and thus no Internet connection. I also run things this way to keep the marital bliss of 40 years alive. Being absent from the living room and the hub of family life for hours (sometimes days) tends to cause more friction than I need in my retirement.
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