Author Topic: FPGA boards  (Read 10639 times)

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Online NiHaoMike

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FPGA boards
« on: December 10, 2011, 03:23:07 pm »
I'm looking for a FPGA board to use for experimentation and to learn Verilog on. Is the following a good board?

https://www.digilentinc.com/Products/Detail.cfm?NavPath=2,400,836&Prod=ATLYS

Can I use the onboard programmer to program Xilinx devices on other boards? Is there a better board for the price, assuming I can get the academic discount?
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Offline slateraptor

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2011, 01:43:20 am »
I'm looking for a FPGA board to use for experimentation and to learn Verilog on. Is the following a good board?

What's your experience level in terms of digital design and/or other HDLs?


Can I use the onboard programmer to program Xilinx devices on other boards?

No.


Is there a better board for the price, assuming I can get the academic discount?

Basys2 is dirt cheap as an entry-level board.
 

Offline olsenn

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2011, 02:46:18 am »
I own that board (Digilent Atlys) and it is great value for money, especially if you are going to be doing work with video over HDMI (I have a pong game I programmed for that board that you can use for a reference if you want). I would say go for the Atlys over the Basys/Nexys boards as it's far better and not much more expensive (just make sure to get the acedemic price fronm their website). I also own a DE0 Nano from Terasic, which is good too, but the Atlys is far more equipped and powereful.

 I also highly recommend their book on "Digital Design". A good portion of the "Introduction to Digital Design" book is also free to download from their website (http://digilentinc.com/Products/Detail.cfm?NavPath=2,729,744&Prod=LBE-IDD). Both of these books will teach you how to work with Verilog, and they are some of the best books I've read on the subject. Also print out the "Quick Reference Guide" (http://sutherland-hdl.com/online_verilog_ref_guide/verilog_2001_ref_guide.pdf) for Verilog 2001 as it will come in handy for when you can't remember the syntax for something. If you want a more classical textbook for learning Verilog, I would recommend you pick up a copy of "FPGA Prototyping by Verilog Examples" by Pong Chu.

Good luck!
 

Offline eurisko

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2011, 02:48:29 am »
Depending on what you plan to do choose the Basys 2, or for a greater investment the nexys 3.

The nexys 3 is already Spartan 6 which is based on the Virtex 6.

the only thing about these fpga's is that you have to load the .bit file to the board using the digilent adept aplication, but no big deal, works perfectly, and with usb. No need for jtag.

I don't remember but i think the price difference between the basys and the nexys isn't much.



 
 

Offline olsenn

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2011, 02:51:55 am »
I forgot to mention, in regards to your origonal question of whether or not you can program other Xilinx devices with that board, the answer is YES. Digilent provides a plugin for IMPACT, the tool Xilinx provides for programming their chips, and JTAG devices like this can be connected in paralel so that you can program another board from teh built in JTAG programmer on the Atlys
 

Online NiHaoMike

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2011, 03:00:46 am »
Quote
What's your experience level in terms of digital design and/or other HDLs?
I have done some Verilog before. I'm planning to do software defined radio and/or video processing with the board in the long term.
Quote
I own that board (Digilent Atlys) and it is great value for money, especially if you are going to be doing work with video over HDMI (I have a pong game I programmed for that board that you can use for a reference if you want). I would say go for the Atlys over the Basys/Nexys boards as it's far better and not much more expensive (just make sure to get the acedemic price fronm their website). I also own a DE0 Nano from Terasic, which is good too, but the Atlys is far more equipped and powereful.
The video part really caught my attention. Exactly how powerful is it?
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Offline olsenn

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2011, 03:32:43 am »
If you're looking to do HD video, there's really no substitude to the Atlys. A Spartan 6 is CRITICAL for this type of high speed serialization, and even it is not perfect. See the Xilinx technical note XAPP-495 (http://www.xilinx.com/support/documentation/application_notes/xapp495_S6TMDS_Video_Interface.pdf) for details on just what the device can do. The speed grade for the Atlys is -2.

I'm not sure what exactly you plan on doing with this device, but I think you'd be pretty hard pressed to push it beyond it's limits. I've had it running 1920 x 1280 (1080P) at 60Hz with extensive DSP effects going on. Remember, FPGA's are rarely limited in what they can do; but rather they are limited in how much they can do. That being said, I have never had a problem with running out of resources on that board (Atlys). My only advise for you when it comes to HDMI work, is to use the example code in that technical note I just referenced... it uses specific functions unique to the Spartan-6 family of devices which aid in producing maximum throughput. I can't see any reason why you would want to re-invent the wheel (in this case the DVI protocol) anyways, so that shouldn't be a problem.

The Atlys is a beast!
 

Offline slateraptor

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #7 on: December 11, 2011, 04:56:11 am »
I forgot to mention, in regards to your origonal question of whether or not you can program other Xilinx devices with that board, the answer is YES. Digilent provides a plugin for IMPACT, the tool Xilinx provides for programming their chips, and JTAG devices like this can be connected in paralel so that you can program another board from teh built in JTAG programmer on the Atlys

I stand corrected.


Exactly how powerful is it?

http://search.digikey.com/us/en/products/XC6SLX45-2CSG324C/122-1673-ND/2408283

Assuming the slower -2 speed grade, $52 a pop powerful. 261KB internal BRAM and 58 DSP slices is quite a bit at your disposal. The inclusion of 128MB DDR2 is perhaps its most appealing point, but that's just me; reliably interfacing with the device, on the other hand, will prove to be a non-trivial endeavor.

Compared to the Nexys2 or 3, the Atlys doesn't look to be as convenient for interfacing external devices...and they milk the marketing cow for all its worth too:

48 I/O’s routed to expansion connectors translates to a whooping 8 GPIO + 20 differential pairs on a VHDCI connector...and oh by the way, set aside another $30-$40 for:

https://www.digilentinc.com/Products/Detail.cfm?NavPath=2,648,848&Prod=VMOD-WW
or
https://www.digilentinc.com/Products/Detail.cfm?NavPath=2,648,847&Prod=VMOD-BB

Furthermore, advertising 500MHz+ clock speeds is suggestively full of crap and misleading.

I'm not a fan of Digilent, but if you can pull off the academic discount, the hardware is definitely worth it.
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #8 on: December 11, 2011, 07:58:05 am »
I've got a Papilo One 250K gate FPGA starter board.
Haven't used it yet, but looks as basic as you can get.

Of course, you can always shell out $2K on one of Altium's NB2 Nanoboards that I helped design  ::)
http://us.element14.com/altium/12-400-nb2dsk01-xilinx/nanoboard-nb2-with-xilinx-spartan/dp/10R0247
http://store.altium.com/NanoBoard-NB2/M/B0050MH7C2.htm
Bargain BTW, it used to be $4K  ;D

Dave.
 

Offline joelby

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #9 on: December 11, 2011, 11:16:57 am »
I maintain a list of cheap FPGA development boards that you might be interested in. The Atlys isn't exactly cheap (and thus isn't actually on the list), but it's definitely the most capable board in its price class and I'd highly recommend it if you can afford it or want to work with digital video. You can easily add VGA output to most FPGA boards or microcontrollers using a connector and some resistors, but DVI/HDMI input and output requires some careful PCB design, especially at higher resolutions.

and JTAG devices like this can be connected in paralel so that you can program another board from teh built in JTAG programmer on the Atlys

I'm not 100% sure that this would work because the JTAG connector and the USB programmer are connected in parallel rather than chained, but I could be wrong. If you really need a Xilinx JTAG programmer, I'd get one of the (relatively cheap) USB Platform Cable clones from eBay.

Quote
reliably interfacing with the device, on the other hand, will prove to be a non-trivial endeavor. Compared to the Nexys2 or 3, the Atlys doesn't look to be as convenient for interfacing external devices...and they milk the marketing cow for all its worth too: 48 I/O’s routed to expansion connectors translates to a whooping 8 GPIO + 20 differential pairs on a VHDCI connector

The length-matched, impedance controlled differential pairs are actually the thing I like best about this board! Don't forget that you can use 20 pairs as 40 single-ended I/Os, or a combination of single ended and differential.

The VHDCI connector was a little bit problematic when the Atlys was first released, but now Digilent sell the appropriate mating connector, and there are a few other alternatives. I've listed some of them on my Digilent Atlys resources page. You should be able to get one of the connectors as a free sample, and then make up a small breakout board with 0.1" headers for next to nothing. Hmm, would anyone be interested in something like this if I were to sell them?

Quote
Furthermore, advertising 500MHz+ clock speeds is suggestively full of crap and misleading.

Yeah, it's not quite clear what they're advertising here. The on-chip PLL will generate frequencies as high as 1080 MHz, though you can't run the FPGA fabric at these speeds. SERDES can easily be used to input and output serial data streams at well over 500 MHz, perhaps even at just over 1 GHz, however the speed grade of the FPGA on the Atlys remains a mystery.

 

Offline McMonster

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #10 on: December 11, 2011, 12:16:51 pm »
Since we're into pricing I'll ask my small question here. What would I need to do to buy board at academic price? I'm a student of a technical university, but do I only need to provide a proof to the distributor or I need direct cooperation with my university and they must place an order?
 

Offline joelby

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2011, 12:20:21 pm »
I just placed the order using my university email address and there were no further questions.

Other companies have asked me to email a scan of my student card to verify student status.
 

Offline almoehi

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #12 on: December 11, 2011, 12:23:25 pm »
Hi McMonster,

I bought my Nexys2, Nexys3 and all the other parts for theses boards from Trenz Electronic (I'm very satisfied with their services), and all they requested was a proof of enrolenment from university I mailed to them.

Armin
 

Offline McMonster

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #13 on: December 11, 2011, 12:24:52 pm »
Ok, thanks.
 

Offline olsenn

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #14 on: December 11, 2011, 02:01:32 pm »
I don't remember having to provide any proof whatsoever when I purchased from Digilent's acedemic program directly from their website.

As for I/O on the board, I'll agree it's sparse, but with a VHDCI connected breadboard, or their VHDCI to PMOD/HDMI adapter boards it is quite plentiful for most things. It will run you up an extra 30 bucks, but that's something to weigh in when you make your purchase.

I wouldn't under any circumstances buy that Altium NB2 board (sorry Dave), but I see the NanoBoard3000 can be had for sub $400. (see http://www.amazon.com/Altium-NB3000XN-NanoBoard-Xilinx-Spartan-3AN/dp/B0036SF9PE/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1323611508&sr=8-2). This board is not nearly as powerful as the Atlys/Nexys3, but it does have LOTS of I/O options, an included touch screen, and a year subscription to Altium Designer.
 

Offline McMonster

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #15 on: December 11, 2011, 02:20:21 pm »
I don't remember having to provide any proof whatsoever when I purchased from Digilent's acedemic program directly from their website.

There's a catch, I'd rather search for a local supplier because shipping costs can easily exceed the discount on the board. And as I can see right now Digilent asks for instructor's or professor's name and e-mail address in their order form, I'd rather not bother with asking someone for help if I don't need to.
 

Offline slateraptor

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #16 on: December 11, 2011, 05:39:24 pm »
And as I can see right now Digilent asks for instructor's or professor's name and e-mail address in their order form...

Yeah, that part is rather annoying. It's like they're getting two e-mail addresses to spam in one fell swoop.
 

Offline olsenn

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #17 on: December 11, 2011, 09:47:53 pm »
I just made up an email account that doesn't exist. I wasn't even at university anymore when I ordered the board, I just said I was because I wasn't about to pay twice as much for the same board. In effect, if you're not using it for profit, you are using it for education
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #18 on: December 11, 2011, 09:53:30 pm »
In effect, if you're not using it for profit, you are using it for education

Quote of the week, surely!

Dave.
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #19 on: December 11, 2011, 10:03:19 pm »
I wouldn't under any circumstances buy that Altium NB2 board (sorry Dave), but I see the NanoBoard3000 can be had for sub $400. (see http://www.amazon.com/Altium-NB3000XN-NanoBoard-Xilinx-Spartan-3AN/dp/B0036SF9PE/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1323611508&sr=8-2). This board is not nearly as powerful as the Atlys/Nexys3, but it does have LOTS of I/O options, an included touch screen, and a year subscription to Altium Designer.

It was a joke  ;D
No one bought the Altium NB2!, that was clear from the visible never declining Digikey/Farnell stock numbers.
The NB3000 is ok, and quite good value depending in many respects. But it locks you into the "Altium way" in many ways.
That years subscription does not include the PCB tool BTW, and it does expire, making the board worthless unless you pay more.

Dave.
 

Offline Scrts

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #20 on: December 12, 2011, 07:32:23 am »
I'd definitely offer You to consider Altera board even if it's more expensive. The tools are good: synthesizer works great, SOPC Builder/QSys environment is also great and Altera offers ModelSim Altera Edition for free. Opponent Xilinx gave me many troubles in designs, their synthesis tools are crap, EDK is almost the worst tool I've ever worked with and ISim is a simulator, that finally provides wrong results. For beginers - it can be a good choice, but later You'll understand the problems :) I've also started with Spartan-3, but moved to Altera ~1 year ago. The more advanced You get - the more You hate Xilinx software.

Btw, I Xilinx silicon is great, it's just tools behave like that... I suppose big companies using Xilinx don't use it's native synthesizer and use smth from Mentor/Synopsys probably.
 

Offline slateraptor

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Re: FPGA boards
« Reply #21 on: December 12, 2011, 10:16:48 pm »
The more advanced You get - the more You hate Xilinx software.

The more Altera teases me with their 28nm PR-capable vaporware, the more tolerable I become of Xilinx's tool chain. :P
 


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