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  1. #1
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    Recommendations for Beginner

    Hi Everyone,

    I want to return to the FPGA world. In the past I only used Xilinx FPGAs and I remeber their devolpment tools (ISE webpack) was heavy and buggy. I also was looking at prices in Digikey and their products seem to be much more expensive than those of Lattice or Intel for similar specs.

    Im planning to start with a development board (not make my pcb yet). What I want to do is a high speed USB link from an ADC to a PC, no data processing. I will only change the format of the ADC output to something of my need and add some framing markers once in a while. I dont want to use a microcontroller partly because I want to get into FPGA and partly because in the future I can achieve much higher speeds with FPGA.
    I have some questions:
    -Which development board would you start with (cheap if possible)? I may not use that same board for the application but just to get used to the developments tools and the documentation
    -Which company offers the best (in your opinio) development tools? and documentation? Xilinx? Lattice? Intel? Atmel?

    Thank you!
    R

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    Re: Recommendations for Beginner

    First of all, I would highly recommend NOT trying to do USB for a first FPGA project. There's a LOT under the surface of USB. Unless you can find a drop-in core (and even that will give you heartburn) I would recommend something else.

    I have not used Atmel. Xilinx and Intel(Altera) are comparable; they each have their own set of annoyances. I think there are definitely two factions out there; personally, I lean towards Xilinx, but that may just be due to more familiarity. I have also used Lattice in the past , and liked them. Haven't used them in quite a few years, but it seemed they had some nice features, but maybe not the high-end parts like Xilinx and Intel.

    In the past I found that Xilinx's support was waaay better than Altera. Not sure if that's gotten better or worse with Intel now in charge of Altera.


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    Re: Recommendations for Beginner

    Do you mean high speed according to the USB spec, 480 MBPS? It requires dedicated PHY hardware which isn't available inside a FPGA.

    The intended ADC to USB interface can be probably achieved with a Cypress EZ-USB FX2 (Highspeed) or FX3 (Superspeed) USB controller without a FPGA.


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    Re: Recommendations for Beginner

    Thanks barry and FvM,

    No, I can implement the USB with an FTDI by now, to not complicate things so much and dont get by with lower speeds.
    In the future when I do my PCB I can use an external controller.



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    Re: Recommendations for Beginner

    If you think ISE was heavy and buggy, prepare yourself when using any of current Xilinx/Altera tools; They are much heavier (fact), slower (maybe in some scenarios they can be faster, but I see new tools being slower as a fact overall) and buggier (that´s my opinion).

    If you use Spartan-6, you still can use ISE. There are some annoying compatibility problems with Windows 10, but this can be overcome.

    Lattice and Atmel have more simple tools, which can be good, but their FPGAs are usually entry-level focused.

    Lastly, QMtech has some cheap development boards: https://qmtechchina.aliexpress.com/store/4486047
    Last edited by pbernardi; 13th February 2020 at 18:50.



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  6. #6
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    Re: Recommendations for Beginner

    Quote Originally Posted by pbernardi View Post
    If you think ISE was heavy and buggy, prepare yourself when using any of current Xilinx/Altera tools; They are much heavier (fact), slower (maybe in some scenarios they can be faster, but I see new tools being slower as a fact overall) and buggier (that´s my opinion).
    I think it's an opinion based on smaller parts, for the largest parts in the Xilinx family ISE was very slow due to the extremely large memory requirements and the database design that wasn't very scalable (mentioned by someone from Xilinx). Vivado was a rewrite and it has much lower memory requirements. The performance is improved over ISE from what I've experienced.

    e.g we had a Virtex (6 I think) design in ISE that would take >5 hrs and >8GB to to implement. It took ~3 hrs and <<8GB to run implementation on Vivado. Of course at the time due to the newness (first release of the tools) of Vivado the QoR suffered due to the lack of any kind of re-timing features in the synthesis, which that design needed to meet timing. This was done on a dual Xeon (8 core) workstation with 48GB of RAM, so it wasn't slow for the ISE due to any disk swapping.

    Now for Altera (now Intel) I always noticed their tools always seemed to be much faster at least they were a decade ago.



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    Re: Recommendations for Beginner

    I don't think there is a big difference in price between similar Xilinx/Intel parts.

    On the other hand Xilinx doesn't compete on the low end against Max10 (intel) or MachXO (lattice)

    I've used some of all 3 (though mostly Xilinx) and would recommend Xilinx Vivado for a beginner because it's the only integrated solution with both synthesis and simulation in one tool. It's also the strongest IDE with features like syntax highlighting.

    Take a look at $75 development boards like this:
    https://store.digilentinc.com/cmod-a...7-fpga-module/



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    Re: Recommendations for Beginner

    Quote Originally Posted by ads-ee View Post
    I think it's an opinion based on smaller parts, for the largest parts in the Xilinx family ISE was very slow due to the extremely large memory requirements and the database design that wasn't very scalable (mentioned by someone from Xilinx). Vivado was a rewrite and it has much lower memory requirements. The performance is improved over ISE from what I've experienced.

    e.g we had a Virtex (6 I think) design in ISE that would take >5 hrs and >8GB to to implement. It took ~3 hrs and <<8GB to run implementation on Vivado. Of course at the time due to the newness (first release of the tools) of Vivado the QoR suffered due to the lack of any kind of re-timing features in the synthesis, which that design needed to meet timing. This was done on a dual Xeon (8 core) workstation with 48GB of RAM, so it wasn't slow for the ISE due to any disk swapping.

    Now for Altera (now Intel) I always noticed their tools always seemed to be much faster at least they were a decade ago.
    Fair point. I really use smaller components (Spartan, Artix, Kintex) where the synthesis/route part is not that critical. In general way I think day-to-day tasks are slower (open projects, edit text, searching into files). The Vivado simulation is clearly better than ISE, however.



  9. #9
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    Re: Recommendations for Beginner

    Quote Originally Posted by pbernardi View Post
    In general way I think day-to-day tasks are slower (open projects, edit text, searching into files). The Vivado simulation is clearly better than ISE, however.
    Tasks are only slower in Vivado if you don't script the flow or use the Tcl command line to do everything. Vivado when run exclusively using the GUI, unloads the database after each step. This loading/unloading the database directly impacts the overall performance of the tools. If you are running on an SSD then the impact is far less, but still exists.

    When Vivado is run using the equivalent Tcl commands the database is never unloaded/reloaded and you don't have to wait between implementation steps. I've found on small designs the database load/unload times easily double the implementation times.



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  10. #10
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    Re: Recommendations for Beginner

    I am no electronics developer but I did notice that most test and measurement A brands they seems to favor Altera.



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    Re: Recommendations for Beginner

    Hello,

    QMTECH has few cheap but good equipped boards (with 256 MB DDR3 memory). You can choose Xilinx(Spartan6) or Intel(CycloneIV):

    https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1000...88%233325%2313

    https://www.aliexpress.com/item/3294...88%233325%2313

    Both these boards widh delivery are below 20 US $. I bought with this shop few months ago such board(Arrtix7):

    https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4000...ou_482569341.0

    and it works fine. What is important the attached documentation is sufficient to work confortable with this board. The delivery time was below one week.

    I prefer Xilinx FPGAs and software tools but I am aware that it is very subjective. I have feeling that some times Intel FPGAs are cheaper then comparable items from Xilinx (especially SoC ones).

    Regards



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