It's not as easy to prototype today as it was. Since packaging technology has moved so far to provide us with reduced board space and higher I/O counts, it also carries with it the inability by most savvy hands on designers to undertake a real ground up prototype.
For the most part, today, prototypes are printed circuit boards. Once debugged, tested, and verified, a second pass makes it production worthy. This is not too much of a burden on us, but can limit our ability to do debug, cut's and jumpers, and rework. Especially if you don't have the fine pitch surface mount rework capability in house. This adds time and cost when moving from concept to reality.
Several companies have staked a claim by making socketed carriers boards and prototype aids. These help but most only want to physically make small functional blocks by hand. If we can find a protoptye and/or development board that can be shoe-horned into our development environment and prototype setup, it's a win win.
This month we've seen a lot of activity in the prototype and development aid arena for FPGA designers. This is a real plus since FPGA's are among the densest package pushers. They typically will take advantage of the smallest and densest packages and I/O technologies as they emerge. As a result, many are not equipped in house to handle every new package as it is introduced.
But, a turnkey development and prototype board that meets most all your requirements is a feasible and good option. It nice to have choices, and we are getting more of them.
A couple of nice new desktop FPGA-based evaluation and prototyping development boards released this month from Celoxica (the RC300 and RC2000Pro) support the 6M gate Xilinx Virtex II FPGA with direct access to four large banks of ZBT SRAM (up to 32Mbytes) and a DIMM socket for DRAM.
These are high end. They include communications through dual gigabit Ethernet MAC/PHYs and 10/100/1000 baseT sockets for data streaming. The board also has a USB 2.0 connection for high-speed file
download and for host to FPGA application communications.
Rounding out it's usefulness is an 8 user-programmable LEDs and a four-line, 16 character LCD display as well as audio in/out, including SPDIF digital out, PS2 keyboard and mouse connectors and dual RS232 ports.
Taking aim at higher end robotics and industrial vision systems, video compression, video distribution, high-speed encrypted VPN, packet filtering and network intrusion detection, the RC300 offers an option whereas the board can be supplied with a high-resolution 1024x768 12.1-inch TFT/Touchscreen.
Another screamer is the RC2000-Pro package for high-performance FPGA / Hard-core processor based SOC applications. Also taking aim at image processing, it supports software including platform abstraction
layer (PAL) and data stream manager (DSM) support using development of platform-independent Handel-C.
Based on a 64-bit 66MHz PCI mezzanine card (PMC), the RC2000-Pro houses an XC2VP70 or XC2VP100 Xilinx Virtex-II Pro Platform FPGA. The PMC card also provides a high speed PCI interface, DDR SSRAM and DDR SDRAM external memory, programmable clocks, temperature monitoring,
battery backed encryption and flash boot facilities.
The mezzanine card can be fitted so the daughter module expands the range of I/O and/or additional memory configurations for example. A secondary PCI is provided via an Intel 21154 PCI-PCI bridge device.
Also supporting Xilinx is a newly released proto and development board from Nu-Horizons (http://www.nuhorizons.com/spartan-3). Based on the Xilinx Spartan-3 FPGA, the board is designed to provide a low cost 400K gate FPGA solution for evaluating soft processor, DSP, industrial system and overall prototyping.
While less sophisticated than the Celoxica boards, it addresses a different need and is very usable as it is. I also like the fact that distribution is adding value to the process. Nu Horizons also bundles development software and acts as a one stop shop for parts and support.
Additionally, this month we saw an FPGA tool supplier (Altium) introduce a tightly coupled prototype and development board for FPGA designers. The Protel 2004 is a complete board-level design system has been enhanced to work natively with the Nexar development software. It takes advantage of the new NanoBoard and a set of FPGA-based virtual instruments which let designers do rapid and interactive implementation and debugging of FPGA-based designs.
The new NanoBoard is an FPGA-based LiveDesign-enabled development board and breadboard. It rounds out a comprehensive, vendor-independent solution for embedded system-level design on an FPGA platform. If you hope to move your designs to a single chip without going an ASIC route.
The NanoBoards incorporates a wide range of peripherals such as an LCD, RAM, serial flash memory, keypad and ADC/DAC that can easily be used for application development. Ports on the NanoBoard include PS2, RS232, CAN, VGA, and I2C, as well as a range of general purpose IO headers.
Plug-in daughter boards are used to supports target FPGAs. Presently supported are Altera Cyclone EP1C12-Q240C7 and Xilinx Spartan IIE XC2S300E-PQ208. Others are planned as well.
It's nice to have choices. Especially when the outcomes are good fits for what we are trying to accomplish.