newbie questions: Xilinx vs. Altera tools and parts

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These questions have probabaly been asked several times but here goes.  
I have a software background and want to learn FGPA programming.   A
friend of mine says that Verilog is the language to learn. I am
interested in a recommended book to learn verilog.   Another friend of
mine said that the Altera tools are much better than Xilinx.  Also one
of the sales people (Xilinx Rep) I talked with say that the Spartan 3E
is a better value than the Cyclone II parts.   I am looking for pointers
in any of these areas from people who actually use these tools and
parts.  I dont want to solicit a religous war, but I do want to know
some opinions.

Thanks in advance.

Re: newbie questions: Xilinx vs. Altera tools and parts

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Try not to think of it as programming.  You are designing hardware.
Hardware can be very parallel.  Think having several memories and
reading from all of them at the same time.  Think of having several
calculation units (like adders), and using them for different
calculations at the same time.  Hardware works well when pipelined.
If A, B and C are fetched from memories, rather than trying to do
A+B*C in one clock cycle it would probably make sense to fetch B and C
on one clock cycle, multiply B*C and fetch A on the next, do the
addition on the next, and save the result on the fourth clock.  Notice
that it takes four clocks to get the first answer, and the same
hardware can repeat the calculation a clock cycle later.  Software is
(usually) doing exactly one thing at a time.

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Over half of the FPGA designs are in VHDL.  Both VHDL and Verilog are
not ideal languages for hardware design, however VHDL both allows for
higher levels of abstraction and better low level control than
Verilog.  Of course, the choice of languages is rarely based on the
merits of the languages.

VHDL is harder to learn, and easier to master.  Verilog is easier to
learn, and harder to master.  The area under the learning curve is
about the same.

In terms of employment, right now for the USA, "Verilog
and FPGA" came up with 105 hits, and "VHDL and FPGA" came up with 148.
It is the reverse in the ASIC world.

Of course, I don't know where you are.  Some locations and some
industries are heavy on Verilog, some are heavy on VHDL.  You need to
learn the local language, what ever that is.  Your friend might have
the correct answer for where you are.

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Maybe yes, maybe no, this week.  Xilinx and Altera are kind of like
Coke and Pepsi, or VHDL and Verilog.

At times in the past decade, Altera was leading.  Right now, I'd say
that Xilinx has both better parts, and the better tools.  Next week,
that might change.  For most designs, both parts will do fine.  For
most designs, both tool sets will do fine.  If you learn how to design
well with one family, it will be easy to learn to design with the
other family.

Phil Hays to reply solve: phil_hays at not(coldmail) dot com  
 If not cold then hot

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