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'[EE] FPGA starter kit'
2011\03\06@035122 by V G

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Now I'm fully interested in FPGAs. I'm looking into getting a starter kit of
some sort.

What would you guys recommend getting?

I searched around and the Cyclone II or Spartan 3 kits were suggested but
then it was also said that they're only good for "student" learning work and
later on they're "pretty much useless". What do they mean by "useless"

2011\03\06@042108 by N. T.

picon face
V G wrote:
> Now I'm fully interested in FPGAs. I'm looking into getting a starter kit of
> some sort.
>
> What would you guys recommend getting?
>

Getting at 4am? Guess what :-

2011\03\06@042145 by V G

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On Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 3:51 AM, V G <spam_OUTx.solarwind.xTakeThisOuTspamgmail.com> wrote:

> Now I'm fully interested in FPGAs. I'm looking into getting a starter kit
> of some sort.
>
> What would you guys recommend getting?
>
> I searched around and the Cyclone II or Spartan 3 kits were suggested but
> then it was also said that they're only good for "student" learning work and
> later on they're "pretty much useless". What do they mean by "useless"?
>

Right now, I'm looking at something like this:

*
www.gadgetfactory.net/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=18
*
http://www.digilentinc.com/Products/Detail.cfm?NavPath=2,400,790&Prod=BASYS

2011\03\06@043827 by V G

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On Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 4:21 AM, N. T. <.....ntypesemiKILLspamspam@spam@gmail.com> wrote:

> V G wrote:
> > Now I'm fully interested in FPGAs. I'm looking into getting a starter kit
> of
> > some sort.
> >
> > What would you guys recommend getting?
> >
>
> Getting at 4am? Guess what :-)
>

Can't sleep. What can I say? FPGAs are very exciting

2011\03\06@064730 by Michael Watterson

face picon face
On 06/03/2011 09:21, V G wrote:
> Right now, I'm looking at something like this:
>
> *
> www.gadgetfactory.net/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=18
> *
> www.digilentinc.com/Products/Detail.cfm?NavPath=2,400,790&Prod=BASYS2
You might use for final low volume products
www.gadgetfactory.net/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=18
Or www.trenz-electronic.de/products/fpga-boards/trenz-electronic/te0300-spartan-3e-series.html
or for a project, cheap and small enough to fit in and no BGA soldering.

But to start and also for Prototypes (nice expansion connector at side) and test /development
http://shop.trenz-electronic.de/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=1_114_119&products_id=578

It has VGA (add 3 SM resistors to increase colour depth)
USB programming built in
option to do CLPD programming
Flash to store configuration and any Softcore CPU program
DRAM for soft core CPUs or other applications
ADCs and DACs better than many PIC
Serial
LCD & LEDs
Phy Ethernet port
Easy to use Expansion connector.
rotary encoder & switches
Samples to load and modify

Almost all Web Site Spartan Tutorials will run on it.

Overviews http://www.wattystuff.net/electronics/spartan-3e-fpga-starter-board/

Learn VHDL FIRST and then Verilog if you know C, as otherwise you will be mislead by syntax.

See also http://www.fpgaarcade.com/
http://www.fpgacpu.org/

http://www.fpgacpu.org/links.html

http://forums.xilinx.com/

2011\03\06@084118 by Xiaofan Chen

face picon face
On Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 4:51 PM, V G <x.solarwind.xspamKILLspamgmail.com> wrote:
> Now I'm fully interested in FPGAs. I'm looking into getting a starter kit of
> some sort.
>
> What would you guys recommend getting?

I do not know much about FPGA but I just went through a one
day training from Arrow. The BeMicro kit is only US$49.
www.arrownac.com/offers/altera-corporation/bemicro/
http://www.altera.com/b/nios-bemicro-evaluation-kit.html

> I searched around and the Cyclone II or Spartan 3 kits were suggested but
> then it was also said that they're only good for "student" learning work and
> later on they're "pretty much useless". What do they mean by "useless"?



-- Xiaofa

2011\03\06@103848 by peter green

flavicon
face
V G wrote:
> Now I'm fully interested in FPGAs. I'm looking into getting a starter kit of
> some sort.
>
> What would you guys recommend getting?
>
> I searched around and the Cyclone II or Spartan 3 kits were suggested but
> then it was also said that they're only good for "student" learning work and
> later on they're "pretty much useless". What do they mean by "useless"?
>   The big issue I noticed with the cyclone 2 kit is that all the IO bank voltages are hardwired to 3.3V. This makes it pretty much impossible to experiment with the more advanced IO options like LVDS which at least according to the datasheet require lower IO bank voltages and given the lengths of the tracks to the connectors I suspect you would have trouble running them at high speed generally.

So you have a powerful FPGA but no easy and fast way of getting data in and out of it. This somewhat limits the usefulness

2011\03\06@133641 by N. T.

picon face
V G wrote:
>> > What would you guys recommend getting?
>> >
>>
>> Getting at 4am? Guess what :-)
>>
>
> Can't sleep. What can I say? FPGAs are very exciting.
> --

That exciting? :-)

At <22 nm process and mass production, it, probably, would be cheaper
to load-on-demand software CPU / peripherals into FPGAs  than to
manufacture standard CPUs/MCUs

2011\03\06@135503 by Olin Lathrop

face picon face
N. T. wrote:
> At <22 nm process and mass production, it, probably, would be cheaper
> to load-on-demand software CPU / peripherals into FPGAs  than to
> manufacture standard CPUs/MCUs.

No, that's just silly.  If this were true, then people would be doing it and
PICs wouldn't exist.  Do you really think you're the first one to ever have
thought of this?

Implementing logic such as a processor in soft gates is going to take more
silicon than doing the same thing explicitly.  That means a dedicated micro
is going to cost less than the same thing implemented in a FPGA.  There will
always be high volume applications where the cost difference matters.  That
will guarantee the existance of dedicated micros, which in turn makes them
available to less cost sensitive applications.

Large FPGAs do have soft CPU cores available.  Soft cores are good when you
need a FPGA anyway, and you can use the tightly coupled and slower general
purpose logic of a processor for higher level control or whatever.
Dedicated micros and soft CPU cores are two different things.  One is not
going to obsolete the other any time soon.


********************************************************************
Embed Inc, Littleton Massachusetts, http://www.embedinc.com/products
(978) 742-9014.  Gold level PIC consultants since 2000

2011\03\06@142811 by John Gardner

picon face
I have the impression that FPGA- implemented CPUs
are power-hungry, compared to the originals.

Be glad to be informed otherwise, though...

Jac

2011\03\06@145040 by Michael Watterson

face picon face
On 06/03/2011 18:55, Olin Lathrop wrote:
> N. T. wrote:
>> >  At<22 nm process and mass production, it, probably, would be cheaper
>> >  to load-on-demand software CPU / peripherals into FPGAs  than to
>> >  manufacture standard CPUs/MCUs.
> No, that's just silly.  If this were true, then people would be doing it and
> PICs wouldn't exist.  Do you really think you're the first one to ever have
> thought of this?
>
> Implementing logic such as a processor in soft gates is going to take more
> silicon than doing the same thing explicitly.  That means a dedicated micro
> is going to cost less than the same thing implemented in a FPGA.  There will
> always be high volume applications where the cost difference matters.  That
> will guarantee the existance of dedicated micros, which in turn makes them
> available to less cost sensitive applications.
>
> Large FPGAs do have soft CPU cores available.  Soft cores are good when you
> need a FPGA anyway, and you can use the tightly coupled and slower general
> purpose logic of a processor for higher level control or whatever.
> Dedicated micros and soft CPU cores are two different things.  One is not
> going to obsolete the other any time soon.
Soft core lets you expensively try ideas for CPU or integrate CPU.  They are not economic for production nor do they give best performance.
They do have their place in FPGA based design.
There is a Java Machine Softcore. Executes Java byte code, also 6502, Z80 and ARM Cortex M1 as well as a few FPGA only CPU RISC cores designed for optimal least usage of FPGA resource etc. .

But hard CPU core is always faster and less silicon.

********************************
You can now have your cake and eat it.
********************************


Dual real ARM Cortex A9 cores and FPGA on one chip

http://www.xilinx.com/technology/roadmap/processing-platform.htm

The portfolio comprises four devices, each integrating a complete ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore-processor-based system with 28,000 to 235,000 cells of 28-nm, low-power programmable logic, the equivalent of 430,000 to 3.5 million ASIC gates.

Each Zynq-7000 EPP device embeds a dual 800-MHz ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore with a dedicated Neon coprocessor for media and signal processing that adds instructions for audio, video, 3-D graphics, and image and speech processing, along with a double-precision FPU (floating-point unit). The hard-wired processing system includes L1 and L2 caches, memory controllers, and commonly used peripherals. The devices integrate dual 12-bit ADCs that support sampling rates as high as 1M sample/sec on as many as 17 external-input analog channels.

The two largest devices in the Zynq family, the Zynq-7030 and Zynq-7040, have built-in multigigabit transceivers that operate as fast as 10.3125 Gbps and dedicated DSP resources that deliver 480 and 912 (billion multiply/accumulate) operations of peak performance, respectively. The two smaller devices, the Zynq-7010 and Zynq-7020 devices provide as much as 58 and 158 GMAC operations of peak DSP performance, respectively.

Customers can start evaluating the Zynq-7000 family by joining the Xilinx Early Access program, which Xilinx has limited to 100 participants. The company plans to release its first silicon devices for the second half of 2011, and engineering samples should become available in the first half of 2012. Prices vary, depending upon volume and device. The 7000 family will have an entry point of less than $15 (high volumes). A design kit will be available for $495.

http://www.edn.com/article/517141-Xilinx_integrates_dual_ARM_Cortex_A9_MPCore_with_28_nm_low_power_programmable_logic.php

2011\03\06@152834 by Michael Watterson

face picon face
On 06/03/2011 19:28, John Gardner wrote:
> I have the impression that FPGA- implemented CPUs
> are power-hungry, compared to the originals.
>
> Be glad to be informed otherwise, though...
>
>   Jack

I'd imagine so

2011\03\06@162723 by N. T.

picon face
Olin Lathrop wrote:
> N. T. wrote:
>> At <22 nm process and mass production, it, probably, would be cheaper
>> to load-on-demand software CPU / peripherals into FPGAs  than to
>> manufacture standard CPUs/MCUs.
>
> No, that's just silly.  If this were true, then people would be doing it and
> PICs wouldn't exist.  Do you really think you're the first one to ever have
> thought of this?
>

Have you noticed I said "at less than 22 nm process and mass
production"? The process is yet to come true, so people just have had
no opportunity to do it.


> Implementing logic such as a processor in soft gates is going to take more
> silicon than doing the same thing explicitly.  That means a dedicated micro
> is going to cost less than the same thing implemented in a FPGA.

Silicon is cheap. Did you see sub dollar ARMs? Lithography is costly
as far as I know.  FPGA can be in huge mass production and you won't
need to spend millions and millions on developing new and new masks.


> There will
> always be high volume applications where the cost difference matters.  That
> will guarantee the existance of dedicated micros, which in turn makes them
> available to less cost sensitive applications.
>

Probably true for many applications.


> Large FPGAs do have soft CPU cores available.  Soft cores are good when you
> need a FPGA anyway, and you can use the tightly coupled and slower general
> purpose logic of a processor for higher level control or whatever.
> Dedicated micros and soft CPU cores are two different things.  One is not
> going to obsolete the other any time soon.
>

Sure.

2011\03\06@164449 by Olin Lathrop

face picon face
N. T. wrote:
> Have you noticed I said "at less than 22 nm process and mass
> production"?

Yes, but I ignored it since it's irrelevant.  We are talking about a
relative difference between dedicated micros and soft cores.  You have to
assume both manufacturers have access to the same fab technology.  With the
same fab capability, a soft core is going to take more area and therefore
cost more than a dedicated micro.  There will always be cost-sensitive
applications where such a cost difference matters.

The two are apples and oranges already, and that will be more so as the
geometry gets smaller.  Some micros are deliberately at a larger feature
size today to get low quiescient current.  Very small FETs have to use lower
voltages and leak more, at least with today's technology.  Look up what
fraction of a modern x86 processor's power is due to leakage as apposed to
switching losses.  It may surprise you.  That level of leakage is
unacceptable in a number of micro applications.  Again, dedicated micros and
soft cores are apples and oranges.  I don't think the two compete
substantially today, and I don't see that changing as feature sizes get
smaller.  We'll just see more stuff in the same package at the same price
for both cases.


********************************************************************
Embed Inc, Littleton Massachusetts, http://www.embedinc.com/products
(978) 742-9014.  Gold level PIC consultants since 2000

2011\03\06@171151 by Oli Glaser

flavicon
face
On 06/03/2011 08:51, V G wrote:
> Now I'm fully interested in FPGAs. I'm looking into getting a starter kit of
> some sort.
>
> What would you guys recommend getting?

I don't think it matters too much as long as it can be used with the current vendor tools and has reasonable access to the pins. You may get one that is limited in some way (as Peter noted with LVDS etc) but you will have plenty to do just learning the tools, HDL, good design practice and so on - by the time you are moving on to bigger things you will likely be looking to your own design anyway.
    Getting one that goes with a book (like the one I mentioned "Prototyping with Verilog examples", though there is probably newer material/boards out now) might be a good idea and make things a bit easier too.
    As I mentioned before, In the past I have often just skipped the dev board part and bought the programmer, read the manual and made my own board. Reasons are that I am going to have to do it at some point anyway, I'm forced to do more substantial reading/learning before jumping into stuff, rather than just getting a board and running a bundled example (which can give you a false sense of confidence) and also they often come with all manner of things I don't need on there thus pushing the price up to silly amounts.
That said I probably would not advise doing this with FPGAs if you want to get going quickly, as the small footprints, multiple voltages and multilayer boards needed make it a tall order compared to making e.g. your own PIC dev board. Just remember at some point you will (probably) have to design your own board if you want to use them, and with such high speed (compared to e.g PICs) densely packed stuff comes a whole host of things you need be aware of and design accordingly for - transmission line effects, simultaneously switching output problems etc, plus things like DDR, LVDS, PECL and similar. So being as prepared as possible is a good thing.
I seem to have gone on at length here - main point was I think there is plenty to do/learn with just a simple FPGA (with access to the pins so you can interface things as you like) on it's own, and maybe it's not such a bad thing to keep it simple to start with anyway.

2011\03\06@173726 by Tamas Rudnai

face picon face
On Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 9:27 PM, N. T. <.....ntypesemiKILLspamspam.....gmail.com> wrote:

> Silicon is cheap. Did you see sub dollar ARMs? Lithography is costly
> as far as I know.  FPGA can be in huge mass production and you won't
> need to spend millions and millions on developing new and new masks.
>

Are you saying that it is more cheap to manufacture an FPGA with unused
circuits in it creating an 8 bit soft core MCU from it than producing a 32
bit MCU and only using part of the circuits it provides (in terms of memory
or peripheries) for low-end products like LED drivers? Or the power
consumption or package size if better than the specific MCU?

Tama

2011\03\06@182915 by Michael Watterson

face picon face
On 06/03/2011 22:37, Tamas Rudnai wrote:
> On Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 9:27 PM, N. T.<EraseMEntypesemispam_OUTspamTakeThisOuTgmail.com>  wrote:
>
>> Silicon is cheap. Did you see sub dollar ARMs? Lithography is costly
>> as far as I know.  FPGA can be in huge mass production and you won't
>> need to spend millions and millions on developing new and new masks.
>>
> Are you saying that it is more cheap to manufacture an FPGA with unused
> circuits in it creating an 8 bit soft core MCU from it than producing a 32
> bit MCU and only using part of the circuits it provides (in terms of memory
> or peripheries) for low-end products like LED drivers? Or the power
> consumption or package size if better than the specific MCU?
>
> Tamas
FPGA much larger power consumption than dedicated CPU.

It's only economic where CPU + chips is too much space, or low volume, or to test idea for ASIC (which can often use 1/10th the power).

It's very poor economically, speed and power to model a CPU on it's own.

2011\03\06@183306 by Michael Watterson

face picon face
On 06/03/2011 21:27, N. T. wrote:
> Silicon is cheap. Did you see sub dollar ARMs? Lithography is costly
> as far as I know.  FPGA can be in huge mass production and you won't
> need to spend millions and millions on developing new and new masks.
FPGA is hardly ever in Mass produced product

Mass produced is ARM core etc in SOC or complete ASIC

A FPGA able to do an ARM as soft core is much more power consumption and much more  expensive than ARM at same speed (which can be close to $1). An ARM in an SoC is effectively less than $1.

2011\03\07@053021 by N. T.

picon face
Olin Lathrop wrote:
> N. T. wrote:
>> Have you noticed I said "at less than 22 nm process and mass
>> production"?
>
> Yes, but I ignored it since it's irrelevant.  We are talking about a
> relative difference between dedicated micros and soft cores.  You have to
> assume both manufacturers have access to the same fab technology.  With the
> same fab capability, a soft core is going to take more area and therefore
> cost more than a dedicated micro.

If one core takes less area, say 0.05mm than another (0.1mm) - this
won't necessarily mean that the cost of production of the second core
will be greater (even in the case of the same fab technology). If the
cost of lunching the production of cores is, say, 5 million dollars
and first core is produced in 10 million units, but the second in 100
million, then that initial expences will add 0.5$ to the first chip
and only 0.05$ to the second. This 0.45$ difference can be greater
than just the cost of extra area per unit.

Again, as I said in my previous reply, "soft cores" are not going to
kill "dedicated" micros, they would just take their share of the
market.

2011\03\07@082241 by M.L.

flavicon
face
On Sun, Mar 6, 2011 at 3:51 AM, V G <x.solarwind.xspamspam_OUTgmail.com> wrote:
> Now I'm fully interested in FPGAs. I'm looking into getting a starter kit of
> some sort.
>
> What would you guys recommend getting?
>
> I searched around and the Cyclone II or Spartan 3 kits were suggested but
> then it was also said that they're only good for "student" learning work and
> later on they're "pretty much useless". What do they mean by "useless"?


Blink some LEDs with this:
http://www.dinigroup.com/new/DNDPB_S327.html

But seriously, don't worry about real applications before you even
know how to write HDL.
digilentinc.com/Products/Detail.cfm?NavPath=2,400,790&Prod=BASYS2
(short link) http://goo.gl/CMxqT

-- Martin K

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