Altera or Xilinx

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Hi all,

For a new project we will need an FPGA and need to select one, so the
question is: Altera or Xilinx?

At least, it is my impression that those two are the major fpga
companies today. Or did I mis something?

I have searched this group and have called distributors for both, but
there seems te be not much difference between them. Not in devices,
EV-kits, free tools or price of the payed tools.

Searching this group with google (starting from 2006-01-01 as I think
much older information will be outdated by now) I found only found 87
messages containing both Altera and Xilinx. Most of those are in a
thread that starts it's focus on Nios vs Microblaze and than soon
derails unfortunately.

The some meaningless statistics:
Searching for Altera or Xilinx alone, also from 2006-01-01 to 2007-07-24:
Altera :  2140
Xilinx : 11200
Searching older messages gives simular results.

My previous experience with FPGA is rather old (+10 jears) and was with
Actel and Quicklogic. Both seem to still be around, but seem far less in
use than Xilinx or Altera. My latest experience with programmable logic
is with a Xilinx CPLD (XC2C128), 2 1/2 jears ago.

Although I'm trying to find the "best" choice for not only this project,
but also for future projects, I will give some info on the current
project.

The designs needs a serial bus with automatic module enumeration (2 - 12
changeable modules, not hotplug), access control (master slave probably),
buffers at each module (< 1kB), fixed timing, 10 - 40 Mbs. The master
module will need aditional buffering, ethernet and a processsor (probably
next to the fpga, not inside, but who knows). Slaves may or may not
require a (simple) processor. And in future there may be a need for
digital signal filters in some new slaves, but that could also be
implemented in a DSP.

My guess is that if it wasn't for the buffers, it could probably fit
inside a CPLD.

Any insights in what is the best FPGA for this (and other) application?
What is the major difference, are the differences, between Altera and
Xilinx?


--
Stef    (remove caps, dashes and .invalid from e-mail address to reply by mail)


Re: Altera or Xilinx
For low-end projects that need things like ethernet or other high-end macros
I would look at Lattice.  I haven't had the opportunity to use any of their
hardware or software but it seems that they offer more to lower-end customers.


---Matthew Hicks


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Re: Altera or Xilinx
In comp.arch.fpga,
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Lattice! How could I forget? Used their CPLDs (isp1032?) some ten years ago.
It indeed looks like they have some nice devices and tools seem comparable
although the free version is only for evaluation (no sim?). Payed tools seem
a bit cheaper than actel/xilinx though.

Any experiences with device and tools here?

--
Stef    (remove caps, dashes and .invalid from e-mail address to reply by mail)


Re: Altera or Xilinx
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customers.
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I've used the Lattice ECP and ECP2 series, although I haven't
had the pleasure of using ECM2/M yet (the ones with the high-speed
serial I/O).  We bought the tools for a few hundred dollars.  The
front-end for synthesis is Synplify or Precision (your choice,
they're both bundled in).  If you're not used to anyone elses
user interface yet there's probably no reason to pick Lattice
vs Xilinx vs Altera.  Many of those posting here gave up on the
GUI front-ends long ago.  That being said, a lot of Lattice
flow is similar to Xilinx, mostly because the tools both originated
at NeoCad.  However they're just different enough that you'll
need to learn the quirks, especially if you need to push the
limits of the part.  On the back-end, I'd say Xilinx is well
ahead on the mapping and place&route, but again you can get
good performance from Lattice if you know what to tweak and
are not afraid to use multipass place and route.  I haven't
installed Lattice version 7 tools yet, but there's talk of
improvement on the back end for that release.

Both Lattice and Xilinx bundle branded versions of ModelSim
with the paid tools.  It may just be my imagination but it
seems that the Xilinx version runs slower than the Lattice
version.  I think the Xilinx version inserts waits if your
design exceeds a certain number of statements or non-Xilinx
"leafs".  I haven't run into that wall on the Lattice version,
but I'm not sure if it's due to differences in the license
or in the size of my designs.  If you're going to do large
designs and long simulations or if you do mixed language
designs, I'd suggest getting a license for ModelSim PE.

Lattice surprised a lot of people by releasing the low-cost
ECP2/M series when Xilinx and Altera only offered similar
features in their higher end products.  That is no longer the
case, and I would expect both Xilinx and Altera to beef up
their low-cost offerings if they see erosion in their
customer base due to Lattice.

For many designs also realize that the I/O options are
becoming the limiting design criteria rather than the
FPGA fabric.  Lattice parts have some nice features
for using DDR I/O, but again you need to look at the
quirks to see if it does what you want for your design.

HTH,
Gabor


Re: Altera or Xilinx
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No, those are the two big fish.  There are other smaller FPGA vendors
such as Lattice and Actel.

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How long is a piece of string?  Should I buy Intel or AMD processors?
A GM, Ford, or Toyota car?  At the end of the day, it doesn't matter which
you use as long as it gets the job done and is cost effective.

If you really think that all else is equal, decide on the basis of
price.  It seems unlikely that there is no difference in price between
the smallest devices that meet your requirements.

Eric

Re: Altera or Xilinx

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If your local distributors are really equivalent,
then the only significant difference
to me is vhdl synthesis.

I prefer Rob Dekker's vhdl front end
to brand X. The numeric_std library
also gets better coverage in the docs
and the rtl viewer is cleaner.

However,
if I preferred verilog,
or synopsys style vhdl,
or if I just wanted to
wire up some cores,
then it would still be a wash.

      -- Mike Treseler

Re: Altera or Xilinx

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voted as the best FPGA poem :-)


Re: Altera or Xilinx

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I'm under the impression that Altera parts are much easier to obtain
in small quantities. Most 'hobbiest' projects seem to use Altera
parts. Every time I buy Xilinx parts, I'll have to meet minimum order
values so sometimes I must buy more devices than I actually need.

Also if you really want to push an FPGA to its limits (space/speed) it
is almost impossible to write FPGA independant code. So whatever you
choose, you'll probably get stuck to it because changing vendors will
require re-learning the quirks, tricks and basic fpga elements.

--
Reply to nico@nctdevpuntnl (punt=.)
Bedrijven en winkels vindt U op www.adresboekje.nl

Re: Altera or Xilinx

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On the other side of the coin,
it is easy to write FPGA independent code if
I'm not near the limits and I study
the synthesis templates and learn some verilog or vhdl.

          -- Mike Treseler

Re: Altera or Xilinx
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I've bought small quantities of Xilinx parts from DigiKey.
-Dave Pollum


Re: Altera or Xilinx
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Xilinx (and Actel?) have free linux version of their programming tool.
Which Altera doesn't.


Re: Altera or Xilinx
snipped-for-privacy@ludd.invalid writes:

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You can download the Altera Quartus II Programmer for free.

Petter
--
A: Because it messes up the order in which people normally read text.
Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?
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Re: Altera or Xilinx
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The download page says:

"Quartus® II Stand-Alone Programmer Version 7.1 Service Pack 1
 Windows XP and Windows 2000
(Note: Solaris, Linux, and HP-UX are not supported)"

   -- Mike Treseler

Re: Altera or Xilinx

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Sorry, I missed the Linux part. As a Linux user I should have
noticed...

Petter
--
A: Because it messes up the order in which people normally read text.
Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?
We've slightly trimmed the long signature. Click to see the full one.
Re: Altera or Xilinx
Thank you all for your input. To sum it up:

Altera and Xilinx are indeed the major brands to look at. Lattice has
some nice stuff, but is smaller and does not support VHDL (at least
not in the low-end tools).

There are no real advantages of one over the other (maybe there is for
some specific designs). So the choice should be made based on the less
technical stuff like distributors, support, prices.

I've asked purchasing to get some indication qoutes of the low-end
devices, eval kits and tools  from both. The Xilinx distributor got
back the next day, still waiting for Altera. :-(

Xilinx seems to have a bit nicer eval kits, especially if we need
ethernet. This is not available on the low-end Altera eval kits.

On the other hand, the sales rep for our altera distributor used
to come in for a cup af coffee on a regular basis in the old days,
and he's still there.

As my most current and extensive experience is with Xilinx (CPLD),
I am currently leaning to Xilinx, but no disicion yet.


--
Stef    (remove caps, dashes and .invalid from e-mail address to reply by mail)


Re: Altera or Xilinx

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Consider running a known-good design through both
sets of tools and getting quotes from both vendors
for 5000 pieces of the most likely device for delivery one
year from now.

         -- Mike Treseler

Re: Altera or Xilinx

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Are you sure ?

The web page states this :
[Supported HDL languages include; VHDL, Verilog 1995, Verilog 2001.]

and they release the Mico8/Mico32 in both Verilog and VHDL.

You can download their Starter for free, and try a design.

-jg


Re: Altera or Xilinx
In comp.arch.fpga,
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You are right the ispLever tools do include VHDL.
I somehow missed that, sorry for the mis-information there.

--
Stef    (remove caps, dashes and .invalid from e-mail address to reply by mail)


Re: Altera or Xilinx
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Heard that with ispLever 7.0 they now also support mixed
VHDL/Verilog design which Altera is doing it for years now (o;

Can someone confirm on this?


cheers
rick


Re: Altera or Xilinx
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Yes, Lattice ispLEVER 7.0 does support mixed VHDL / Verilog synthesis
native to the ispLEVER Project Navigator GUI.  Actually, the ispLEVER
has supported a mixed language support for some time.  In the past,
Precsion (included with the ispLEVER) could be used as the synthesis
vendor of choice to create an EDIF file from a mixed design.  Then the
EDIF file could be brought into the ispLEVER Project Navigator.  The
advantage of ispLEVER 7.0 is that now a "single-step" flow can be
supported and customers can use Synplify as a synthesis tool if so
desired.

John Dimtsios
Lattice


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