FPGA starter kit recommendations

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Anyone here have any information they can offer about basic FPGA starter
kits?. I'm not after anything spectacular to begin with but after the
last trip to DSE trying to buy 74 and 4000 series logic, I figure now is
the time to learn and I have a nice project to implement where space is

PLCC package devices would be an advantage.


Re: FPGA starter kit recommendations


Both have kits to support their chips. I think Xilinx is a bit better in
respect to kits.

BTW, there is a difference between PLD and FPGA. You may need PLD for your
design, not an FPGA.


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FPGA's are going away from small pin count packages, and towards high
pin count BGA and TQFP packages.

CPLD's might be more what you are after, but it depends on the
functionality you need.


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  I'd be looking at mainly implementing digital gate circuit of a few
hundred gates tops rather than doing my own microprocessor design.

My current use is to have a simple quadrature decoder circuit with
maybe a serial shift register output of a binary up/down counter

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CPLDs are the way to go then. Digilent do a couple of starter kits for the
Xilinx parts. Last time I looked, Farnell had the Xilinx XC9500 parts
available in PLCC.


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If you are going to use programmable logic cplds are what you want
but you could do all of what you want with a micro.

Altera maxx2 - don't know as never used them.

Xilinx coolrunner2  1.8volt - tqfp only
or older xc9572 - 5Volt , xc9572xl  3.3 volt in plcc and tqfp

coolrunner2 starter kit - US$49

lattice  ??

Arrow and avnet carry the xilinx parts locally.


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Hi Alex, my current prototype uses a 3.3V I/O 20 MHz 16 bit RISC
processor but it does occasionally miss a few pulses at high speed
as it stops to convert and display the result to an LCD. I thought
if I use a hard wired logic circuit I can solve the problem completely.

Re: FPGA starter kit recommendations

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msp430 ?
Using interupts ? More efficent way of coding the conversion ? lookup table
What about using a second slave micro conected via spi?
You already have the tools and are used to using them.

Depends on what you want/requirements.

A larger / faster micro maybe cheaper than adding a cpld.

If its just a simple quadrature decoder circuit with
 a serial shift register output of a binary up/down counter.
You maybe able to replace the micro with a cpld.

Should be able to get a much higher speed with the cpld
but you will have the additional learning curve of the software and hdl.

You should be able to get the xilinx xc9572xl's in plcc44
for around US$2 each if you buy enough(last time I purchased approx 60 )
Can also get plcc84 packages.
Seem to be a lot more expensive now than six months ago.

Small fpgas are cheaper than the mid size cplds
have a look at the thread in comp.arch.embedded on serial cpld
especially the posts by Antti and Jim Granville.


Re: FPGA starter kit recommendations

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Maxim MAXQ2000: Maxim's answer to the MSP430

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Only for the LCD routine, there's a timer interrupt
every 3/4 of a second or so. The A and B encoder lines are
continuously polled in an endless loop and if I get a result
that indicates a missed increment say 1,1 to 0,0 I look back
to the previous change to determine if it's up or down and then
increment or decrement by 2 accordingly. It's fast enough if
you don't manually flick the encoder shaft fast up and down

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I threw away the "encoder counter to degrees" conversion routine to
reduce code size and write the encoder binary data directly to
LCD registers using the routines below:

The extraction of each individual decimal digit from the 16 bit
binary count relies on a modulus by a power of ten to remove
the digits above the wanted digit then a divide by a power of
ten to reduce the digit to a value between 0 and 9 including
decimal places which I then trim by saving into an integer.

I'm using the hardware multiplier as much as possible: a multiply
by a reciprocal- A * 0.1, instead of A / 10 saves about 30 bytes
at compile time, I'm assuming because the compiler does the
divide in code

So the conversion uses a modulus and a multiply to get each
of the five digits which are then converted to seven segment
form with an array look up to return a byte to write to the LCD
I/O register.

By setting the compile time options to "fastest" and turning off
all debug options I get the code down from 2200 odd bytes to
below 600 bytes and still have the very occasional problem that
may not affect the production units as I doubt you could spin
them that fast due to physical mass considerations.

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I'm going to use the LSI LS7366R to start with: it's a 4X
quadrature decoder /binary counter IC with SPI interface. After
that I'll have time to build a simple logic 4X quadrature
decoder circuit in logic gates to interface with the micro's hardware
up/down binary counter. Either option would then have the micro only
handling the conversion of the binary value to seven segment LCD.

        One solution that just occurred to me is that I can detect
when the encoder is stationary and then and only then, run the LCD
update: this may entirely fix the problems.


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To replace 74 and other logic, cplds would be a better match
complex programmable logic devices.

For larger amount of logic  fpgas.

Problem you will have is the device voltage levels.
very little works at 5v and are expensive, most are 1.8 or 3.3V
so you will still need some 74 chips for interfacing 74hc125 , 74hc244 etc

Altera and Xilinx are the larger two suppliers and the ones I'm familiar
Lattice also makes fpgas and cplds. Theier Machxo chips look quite

Both xilinx and altera have starter kits from US$49.

Both have free versions of the software that you can download if you have a
fast connection - at least 1GB download.

Will need a few GB's free on your hard drive.
Programs can crash or be buggy especially xilinx.

Altera has much better support for schematics (design by schematics).
Both support hdls (hardware description languages) - vhdl and  verilog.

If you can, I'd recommend taking the time to learn an hdl,
would give a lot more flexibility and power as well as future proofing your
compared to schematics.

I'll put the Altera kits I have links for, in a seperate post.

Xilinx fpga kits start at around US$149 , cpld kits from  US$49
They are pretty good. Fpga starter kits S3 , S3e , S3a and S3an.
Made by digilentinc.com for xilinx. S3e is the one you should look at.

Either of the cpld kits is pretty good.

try to get a kit using usb port for programming


coolrunner 2 starter kit  US$49

coolrunner2 addon peripheral kitgoes with starter kit US$99

cpld design kit
I've used a few of these - easy to use (once familar with software)

s3    - main stream / value range compared to virtex2 pro, virtex4 and
virtex 5 series
s3e  - economy
s3a   - economy/lower end part - less features
s3an - flash memory builtin

S3e starter kit - US$149  (also used one of these)
project examples

3a starter kit - US$225 (just recieved one of these - just opened it this

project examples

s3an starter kit - US$225
http://www.xilinx.com/xlnx/xebiz/designResources/ip_product_details.jsp?key=HW-SPAR3AN-SK-UNI-G&sGlobalNavPick=&sSecondaryNavPick =

Looking at getting one of these for a project I'm going to be starting on
Spartan-3 PCI Express Starter Kit (HW-S3PCIE-DK) - US$349
http://www.xilinx.com/xlnx/xebiz/designResources/ip_product_details.jsp?key=HW-S3PCIE-DK&sGlobalNavPick=&sSecondaryNavPick =

Can buy all these kits from Avnet in Australia but are usually slow, 6 - 16
weeks for delivery
in my experiance.
Buying direct from digilent is faster but shipping  last time I ordered from
them was quite expensive
but had the boards within 4 days.

Xess also make a few xilinx boards from US$89 upwards.
Have some good tutorials

http://www.burched.com/index.html here in Sydney sell an fpga board.
we use them in the remote student labs at work(UTS).

UTS sells a kit to its students for Introductory digital systems
for microchip pic and xilinx cplds for around $100.
Takes about 4 - 10 hours to solder it up.


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Thanks Alex, that'll take some time to digest, at this point I'm tending
towards the Xilinx 9572XL series but I'll have to look at the others a bit
more first. The Xilinx seem to be pretty good value from Avnet

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Altera starter kits.
Unfortunately more expensive than xilinx kits.

Max2 kit  US$150

Have a look at the third party Max2 boards

Terrasix make  nice starter kits for fpgas
http://www.terasic.com.tw/cgi-bin/page/archive.pl?Language=English&CategoryNo39%&No83 %

www.fpga4fun.com make some nice little boards and have some good fpga
http://www.knjn.com/ the boards
http://www.fpga4fun.com/digitalscope.html the scope works quite well.
All their tutorials use verilog.

Most xilinx reference designs are vhdl.


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http://www.terasic.com.tw/cgi-bin/page/archive.pl?Language=English&CategoryNo39%&No83 %
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This looks like the better altera one
At least it has some peripherals.

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