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RobG

Looking for FPGA suggestions

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I want to get my feet wet in FPGA programming and looking for suggestions, like which chip should I start with and which IDE is good.

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I've used the free software from Xilinx and Altera, in the past.  I found them to be mostly equivalent.

 

The bigger decision you need to make is: VHDL or Verilog.  I prefer VHDL.  Back when I programmed logic (I don't anymore), I was started on Verilog because I went to an american university.  Later I decided to give VHDL a try.  For me, it made a huge difference.  Verilog is fugly.

 

For the chip, the technology has progressed enough at this point that any starter board is probably going to have more than enough equivalent gates for anything you might want to do as a first project.  I seem to recall using an Xilinx CoolRunner for an I2C implementation, at one time, and that is ancient technology.  I also recall using Altera Cyclone family devices.

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I have a Xilinx Spartan 3A embedded processing kit sitting around, I'll send it over to you for $50 if interested. It includes the Xilinx platform cable programmer too.

 

http://www.xilinx.com/products/boards-and-kits/DO-SP3E1600E-DK-UNI-G.htm

 

Otherwise the Terasic DE0 nano board is a great tool.

 

Personally I prefer verilog, Vhdl is just too strongly typed for my taste.

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I've been considering picking up one of the uber-cheap Lattice boards.  It may not be the most sophisticated FPGA, but it is at least a minimal investment.  I can't speak for their functionality or software.  Maybe someone has experience with them.

 

These iCE40 are from the SiliconBlue acquisition, but they have other parts as well.  $34 each.  Sometimes they have had them on sale for $20, but I missed out on the deal.

 

http://www.latticesemi.com/products/developmenthardware/developmentkits/iceblink40hx1kevaluationk.cfm

http://www.latticesemi.com/products/developmenthardware/developmentkits/iceblink40lp1kevaluationk.cfm

 

Some other boards in the $20-$40 range:

 

http://www.latticesemi.com/products/cpld/machxo/machxoevaluationboardsdev.cfm

 

They have several cores that you can implement on FPGA, including an open 32-bit soft processor.

 

http://www.latticesemi.com/products/intellectualproperty/ipcores/index.cfm

http://www.latticesemi.com/products/intellectualproperty/ipcores/mico32/index.cfm

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I've used Altera chips at Uni, but I think (as @@jpnorair said), the decision is more VHDL/Verilog than which chip/board.  The QuartusII software is quite nice, and Altera provide online training information which is very useful (Altera University I think they call it).

 

I just started getting into it as time was running out, but it's so mindblowing when you start to grasp the capabilities of the chips - Writing a VGA driver that uses less than one percent of a chips resources was staggering to me (then again, I'm impressed by the "browning" button on the toaster so don't let my enthusiasm hold any sway).

 

Anyway, Altera, QuartusII, free online training = easy FPGA's :)

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A few months ago Altera launched a cloud based design program for the BeMicro SDK (sports an Cyclone IV with an Ethernet port, microSD, and a temp sensor). The IDE is quite simple but the "Widget" section that allows interactions through web UI to the dev stick is quite interesting. No costs for the design program except to purchase the dev stick plus installing a "JumpStart Tool" program (not the standard NiosII EDS and Quartus).

 

Official site:

http://arrow.transim.com/bemicro/welcome.aspx

 

Demo video:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=544LQRjPyG4

 

Counter using switch demo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1C0awp0lK9U

 

 

Timer demo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4ksY67D-vA

 

 

Light Rider:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsN1it8HdFQ

 

 

I guess this cloud based stuff are based on NiosII, that means a soft-core processor on top of Cyclone and probably not the cup of tea for anyone looking for hardware FPGA development. But still worth mentioning as the dev stick itself can be programmed just like any FPGA device with Quartus.. However the DE0-Nano from Terasic seems to be a more popular board than the BeMicro with different peripherals..

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