Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)

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I would like to learn more about electronics (FPGAs, programming them,
interfacing with analogue circuitry etc.), so I have decided to get an FPGA.

At first, I want to play with it to see how it works, and then I want to
implement some "personal interest projects". These will require two-way
communication with my PC, and if possible, my Ethernet network.

I want to do things like drive an array of LEDs to be a VU meter,
send/receive IR signals (using an integrated IR IC which I have currently
rigged up to my PC's serial port to receive, and a much simpler circuit to
send), read from (up to 2) temperature and humidity sensors, and hopefully
(ultimately?) drive an LCD of some sort. I am thinking of starting with a
basic 16x2 and later moving onto driving a small colour screen (which I have
not chosen yet).

This is only what I currently want to do, and I expect my wishes to grow as
I gain experience with the hardware and software, and I will probably need
to be able to interface to many devices at once.

Now, I now some people will be reading this and thinking that I should get
an MCU instead because it's cheaper, easier, ... . I wouldn't mind getting
an MCU, but since I am doing this for fun, and not for profit, I am willing
to try and kill two birds with one stone and learn about the hardware and
software at the same time.

What I am after is a product, or someone's idea of a good collection of
products that would make this possible, workable, and fun. I don't mind
spending more money than one normally would on the parts since this is not
for mass production. Something reasonably priced and easy to build on would
be ideal.

Suggestions please.

Re: Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)
"C3" <_> wrote in message
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The cheapest way to get started is probably the new Xilinx Spartan-3 starter
kit ($99).



Re: Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)

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With the current FPSLIC promotion, you can get the FPSLIC for about $50.
catch is that you need an STK500 as well.

With the FPSLIC you get both an MCU and the FPGA....
The FPGA contains 16 kB of SRAM useable by the FPGA for a monochrome graphic
The coverification environment is nice.
You get a 4 month license, but this can be extended if you write a nice
application note
describing what you do.

Best Regards
Ulf at atmel dot com
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Re: Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)
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Can you provide details on this promo?  Nothing obvious on the website,
and Digi-Key has the STK594 at $99.

(Incidentally, why is the STK94 $500?  STK500+594 seems functionally

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Not a game for the casual experimenter, it seems - $2500 for a license,
plus $500/yr maintenance.  Are there low-cost alternatives that support


Re: Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)

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I think All Atmel distis should have this offer.
Check out www.ebv.com

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No clue

Write a nice app note, and you will get an extension for 6 months.
Atmel  pays Mentor for the toolset.
Buy a new STK594 every 4 months.
or buy a couple now at $50 form a disti which knows about the promotion.
Then activate as you need it.

The Atmel place and route is free, but you need to genrerate the *.edf file

Best Regards,
Ulf Samuelsson   ulf@a-t-m-e-l.com
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Re: Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)
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The Digilent-made S3 board (which is what Xilinx will also sell you)
is a great package at a great price, however it's substantially more
complicated to get going than a microncontroller project, because you
have to build the microcontroller!  True, you can download other
people's projects as a starting point, but there's a lot to learn.
What you do get for this is flexibility, and the chance to get your
fingers on every stage of the system.  Past experience hooking things
up to a processor is a big help in figuring out how to make things

Some things like ethernet and USB are also pretty complicated -
do-able, but not trivial unless you can find most of the solution
ready to download somewhere or offload most of the work to a helper

In theory though, an fpga of this size can do most things a
microcontoller can - so if you find someone's web page describing a
pic project that looks cool, you can probably copy the hard parts and
just adapt a few things to your setting.  You might even find a
downloadable core for the microcontroller they used!

My one major dislike of the digilent S3 board is the scarcity of
grounds on the 3 40-pin I/O connectors - ONE each!  That's okay for
slow speed I/O, but I'm worried I may have to do some surgery and
attach annother connector to the ground plane if I try to crank up the
speed on my IDE disk interface, for example.  Something that would be
really cool would be a little board to extend one of these connectors
to a few ISA bus slots, so one could play with old PC expansion cards
as a source of cheap helper chips.  Watch out for the 3.3v I/O though
- series resistors are needed on inputs that will be driven by
external 5v logic.

Also, anyone doing system-on-a-chip work in a Xilinx FPGA should at
minimum learn how to use a .bmm file so that you can replace the
program ROM without having to recompile the whole project.   If you
JTAG-configure the FPGA directly rather than programming the on-board
config rom, this gets your burn-crash-"hmm" cycle under a minute.


(btw, this email address no longer works)

Re: Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)

Has anyone had a look at the new Protel (Altium devel board)

http://www.altium.com/livedesign /

It's $99


Re: Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)
"C3" <_> wrote in message
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Go look at the stuff at www.fpga4fun.com  The Pluto board is nice.  

Somebody else already mentioned the $99 special from Xilinx.  

A good selection of toys can be found at www.burched.biz.  He is
having a "sale" through the end of November.  I'm sure they can get
you an updated price sheet.

Rob Young

Re: Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)
Thanks for the suggestions, everyone! It looks like the Spartan 3 + a few
add-on boards is the go for me.


Re: Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)

I have been looking at this Spartan3 , am a FPGA beginner also


It seems like tou get a lot of value for the $70 more than the Xilinx
devel board. I guess this could run a real linux with 64MB Ram.
Anyone have experience with nuhorizon ??

Or this Xess


You get a lot less on this board compared to the nuhorizon ,but you
get 1 mill gates.

The Xess is not 5v tolerant , wonder if its the same with the
nuhorizon. I might think so , as it says it has 20 3.3v io lines

Any other suggestions in the $100.. $250 class ??


Re: Looking for an FPGA on a board (for fun...)
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Hmm, the digilent board is limited for system-on-a-chip work not so
much by the smaller FPGA, but by the limited memory, and limited
non-volatile memory.  I currently have a 32-bit soft core running from
block ram, and am rapidly running out of space.  On the other hand, I
have a hard disk interface, so if I add instruction/data memory
multiplexing, I can boot some additional code from disk to the
on-board SRAM.

This more expensive nuhorizons board does look better for SoC work - a
bit more block ram in the larger FPGA, but mostly a lot more on-board
memory and flash.  The problem though in my mind is the 20 io's - I
think it would take some multiplexing to squeeze in everything I need.
 I could probably turn my IDE disk interace into a typical intel-style
16 bit I/O bus within those 20 pins, but might end up needing a small
additional PLD (or whatever a 74ls138 is called in 3.3v logic) to do
adddress decode for various other peripherals, like video DAC.


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