Electronics > FPGA

Initial (un)impressions of xilinx

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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.

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.

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).

The fun doesn't start until you've synthesized your first 30+ minute place-and-route architecture...

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.


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