Author Topic: Initial (un)impressions of xilinx  (Read 4592 times)

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Offline naimis

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Initial (un)impressions of xilinx
« on: April 08, 2012, 04:42:55 pm »
I've been mulling over a project idea recently that I simply wasn't going to be able to accomplish using microcontrollers (i.e. it's either impossible or at the very least impractical to attempt).  So I started looking at FPGAs.  At a buddy's suggestion, I looked at Xilinx.  A day or two ago I downloaded their free ISE WebPACK environment and it's certainly made some impressions on me...

1) It's freaking huge.  More than 5GB.  The "electronic fulfillment survey" I'm filling out right now (and yes, I'm letting them know my impressions) hints they have some sort of downloader but I never saw one.  It took me over an hour to download, which would be around a 10Mbit download.  The bandwidth I had wasn't terrible, at least.
2) It takes forever to install.  Honestly, if the source file is on my local system, it really ought not to take more than an hour to install, but it did.
3) Licensing was a small hassle.  I understand the need to generate license files (this is the '90s, after all, oops wait a minute), but having to go through several manual steps to install a license file that was emailed to me seems absurd.  I guess they don't trust that people might try to pirate their software by faking someone's identity or something, so they always mail the license file to the registered user.  Seems like a pain, though, especially if you're using the free license.
4) Internet Explorer integration really stinks.  Again, I don't recall seeing anything like that since the early 90s, though the AVR dev environments might do something similar.  If they do, it wasn't anywhere near as clunky as it is in ISE, IMO.
5) Tutorials files are only available through their "standard" software fulfillment center.  And they were linked in the ISE via their terrible IE integration.  AND I had to enter my username and password to download the free tutorial files.  AND I had to enter my username and password for each tutorial file I wanted to download.
6) I tried starting the ISE a few minutes ago to see if there was anything else I wanted to comment on while filling out their survey.  It won't even start.

 

Offline free_electron

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Re: Initial (un)impressions of xilinx
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2012, 05:27:14 pm »
welcome to the world of FPGA's. where the software is gigabytes large.
Do you know how you are going to design ( schematic or HDL ? ) . In my opinion the Altera tools are easier to use than the xilinx tools.
And altera is easier to get. fill out the form on the web , download , install . done. no mucking about with licence files. ( at least not if you get the WEB edition. the paying edition is a different story )

But both can get the job done.

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Offline mikeselectricstuff

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Re: Initial (un)impressions of xilinx
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2012, 05:47:13 pm »
Unfortunately they're pretty much all as bad as this. It's really annoying that there is no option to at least select devices, as device files are a large part of the install size.
What is particularly stupid is that the webpack download includes EDK and a large number of devices and tools which are not supported by the webpack version.
To add insult to injury it is very hard to trim out files for unused devices as it breaks some of the tools which appear to have device lists and complain if files are missing, although EDK can be deleted quite easily.

I can't see that it would be that hard for them to do a version that only had support for the lower end devices as a much smaller download.

At least once you've found your way round the license system, the licenses are permanent, unlike Lattice where you have to renew them every 6 months (with no advance warning of impending expiry).
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Offline slateraptor

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Re: Initial (un)impressions of xilinx
« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2012, 06:41:02 pm »
The fun doesn't start until you've synthesized your first 30+ minute place-and-route architecture...

 

Offline naimis

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Re: Initial (un)impressions of xilinx
« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2012, 09:32:54 pm »
The software project at work takes an hour, give or take, to build from scratch, so I'm no stranger to long build times.  We have that exact comic panel on our cork board, as it turns out.

The comments certainly make it look like they (xilinx and everyone else apparently) could really benefit from an intelligent downloader.  Just download the tools that you have a license for, and the devices you intend to use (seriously, how much of that 5GB+ is actually relevant to the webpack license and the spartan 3AN I was planning on using in my project?  I'm guessing "not much").  Download the tools on demand... download device data on demand... download tutorials on demand...  Nope, let's make it ugly and painful.

In my message to xilinx, I pointed out that the one sample design file I downloaded amounted to an additional .0008% in size.

I haven't actually been able to play around with the tool but I expect the bulk of the development, if I don't get totally turned off by the sheer pain of it all, will be done in verilog.
 

Offline naimis

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Re: Initial (un)impressions of xilinx
« Reply #5 on: April 09, 2012, 03:13:56 am »
add:
7) tar (a unix format derived from streaming tape back-ups) is a really terrible way to ship windows binaries.
 

Offline Mark

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Re: Initial (un)impressions of xilinx
« Reply #6 on: April 09, 2012, 04:18:45 pm »
1) It's freaking huge.  More than 5GB. 
I have installed the System Edition (everything).  The size on disc is 17.0 GB (18,347,073,536 bytes) :D 
It's a HUGE chunk when talking about the limited space on a laptop HDD for example.  Add 6.5GB for Altium, 4.4GB for Matlab etc etc and it starts to fill up very quickly. 

2) It takes forever to install.  Honestly, if the source file is on my local system, it really ought not to take more than an hour to install, but it did.
3) Licensing was a small hassle.  I understand the need to generate license files (this is the '90s, after all, oops wait a minute), but having to go through several manual steps to install a license file that was emailed to me seems absurd.  I guess they don't trust that people might try to pirate their software by faking someone's identity or something, so they always mail the license file to the registered user.  Seems like a pain, though, especially if you're using the free license.
4) Internet Explorer integration really stinks.  Again, I don't recall seeing anything like that since the early 90s, though the AVR dev environments might do something similar.  If they do, it wasn't anywhere near as clunky as it is in ISE, IMO.
Time to install , licensing and IE haven't really bothered me.  Once it's licensed, it's done, unless you want to install on another PC instead. 

5) Tutorials files are only available through their "standard" software fulfillment center.  And they were linked in the ISE via their terrible IE integration.  AND I had to enter my username and password to download the free tutorial files.  AND I had to enter my username and password for each tutorial file I wanted to download.
A PITA, as I always forget my password.  Not sure why this is needed, it must be so Xilinx can track which customers are interested in which areas. 
6) I tried starting the ISE a few minutes ago to see if there was anything else I wanted to comment on while filling out their survey.  It won't even start.
Oops.  Have you checked your OS version is supported? 
I had problems getting parts of the tools to work in the past, for example there was a very handy statecad editor which output VHDL, last version with this feature was 10.1 which works on XP but the statecad tool won't run even after I dusted off my old XP machine. 
 

Offline naimis

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Re: Initial (un)impressions of xilinx
« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2012, 01:46:14 am »
Time to install , licensing and IE haven't really bothered me.  Once it's licensed, it's done, unless you want to install on another PC instead. 
I ended up installing the webpack on another windows 7 computer, this time a desktop, using the webpack license they already sent me.  No obvious issues so far, though I doubt that would be the case if it was a paid license.  I'm guessing computer upgrades a pain for paying customers.

Oops.  Have you checked your OS version is supported? 
I had problems getting parts of the tools to work in the past, for example there was a very handy statecad editor which output VHDL, last version with this feature was 10.1 which works on XP but the statecad tool won't run even after I dusted off my old XP machine. 
I didn't look too closely, I just grabbed the latest version to play around with before I decided if I really wanted to pull the trigger and start doing some FPGA work.  One would *think* that windows 7 would be supported by the latest version, but as indicated in my earlier posts, a lot of this stuff looks early 90s to me.


I mentioned my gripes to a coworker who uses altium designer regularly and he pointed out the very valid fact that if dynamic downloads were the only way to get stuff, we wouldn't be able to use the tool at all at the office.  IT has closed off all direct external internet access from our desks.  In that case I can definitely see why having the full download would be preferable.  He can't get AD updates anymore, it seems.
 

Offline DarkPrince

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Re: Initial (un)impressions of xilinx
« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2012, 03:02:51 am »
One of my classes in college was around digital systems, and instead of breadboarding each circuit we used FPGA development boards from Xilinx. We used the ISE WebPACK software. Downloading and installation wasn't a problem, and in most modern equipment memory is plentiful (750GB+ in mobile devices, 1 or 2TB in modern desktop systems), so not too concerned. Actually I was quite suprised, even with how large the software is, a lot of it is that, just tools. I wrote my own mapping files instead of using their tools, etc. Schematic editor, and Verilog.

Systems:
1)   Windows 7 - 64 Bit
      64GB SSD

2)   Windows 7 - 64 Bit
      500GB HDD

Granted the software seemed overwhelming at first, but with some effort you can get comfortable. I am not trying to advertise it or anything, but for being my first FPGA experience I was quite satisfied. Unfortunately that is about as far as my experience goes, we are no longer using an FPGA at the moment. Hopefully again. :)
 

Offline slateraptor

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Re: Initial (un)impressions of xilinx
« Reply #9 on: April 10, 2012, 03:34:07 am »
...we are no longer using an FPGA at the moment. Hopefully again. :)

If your passion is strong enough, you'll fabricate your own excuse in short time without having to wait for academia to hand you one...and if you get a good enough head start, it won't cost you $136 for a single multi-layer board to support a custom platform either. ;)
 


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