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Best starter FPGA board?


TomXP411
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@Wavicle you seem to have the most experience so far... 

Looking at the Cyclone IV EP4CE6 dev board, or the DE10-Lite (which has more 7-segment LEDs), do you have any suggestions about which might be a better board for starting to learn FPGA development?

Also, can you suggest an FPGA development course for those people just getting started?

I do have a CS degree and understand logic circuits, but I've never done any FPGA and so don't know VHDL or Verilog. My long term goal is to build a complete microcomputer based around an FPGA board, probably based around the Multicomp FPGA core, if that helps put things in context.

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If it were me, I would probably go with the DE10-Lite. I like the look of the Cyclone IV EP4CE6 dev kits better, but the DE10-Lite has a substantially more capable FPGA, and I believe has better documentation and community support.

Two big questions I would suggest finding answers for before committing to a purchase one way or the other:

  1. Can you get the development tools for free or at a reasonable price? It isn't unusual for the big players to charge hundreds per month or thousands per year for a tools license. Some of their older stuff they license for free. Make sure that whatever you get will not just be a doorstop unless you shell out a few hundred more dollars.
  2. How big is the support community for each? I believe the DE10-Lite has a bigger community but check my work. I'm not certain about this. My first FPGA was a $15 Cyclone II EP2C5T144. It's the FPGA I used when I made the prototype VGA sprite w/ alpha channel. However, the only help for getting started with that FPGA that I found was a single YouTube video. It's hard to get motivated when you feel like you're on the playground by yourself.
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  • 4 weeks later...

My recommendation is an Arty-A7: https://digilent.com/shop/arty-a7-artix-7-fpga-development-board/

I love the crap out of this little board and their reference material has a lot of good examples and guides. When I got it, one of the bonuses was it came with a Vivado license, but since then their licencing has changed so paid licenses are no longer needed for many projects.

This chip and board are also supported by the open source toolchain F4PGA (formerly Symbiflow) that is getting a lot of traction: https://f4pga-examples.readthedocs.io/en/latest/

Some of the other boards/parts supported are pretty cool too, like the QuickLogic one SparkFun sells or the fully open source TinyFPGA (very out of stock last I checked )

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I'm trying to get back into supporting the open source FPGA ecosystems. I've been out of touch with it for a couple years and I'm definitely more of a linux/software dev pretending to know what I'm doing than any kind if expert.

A few years ago I wrote a fairly large tutorial series on logic design with FPGAs, it was never very popular but maybe it can help with your journey as well. I've been trying to lure more devs like myself into it, but the learning cliff can be real.

That tutorial series can be perused from here: https://suchprogramming.com/categories/

I'm not super active on this forum, but I'd be glad to help if/as I can as well!

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  • 5 months later...

I would recommend Xilinx FPGA chips because they support Linux. So you don't have to be stuck on a Microsoft spy platform.

Asfair there's also completely reverse-engineered synthesis tool chain for Lattice FPGAs.

Also recommended is some onboard LEDs, LCD and some buttons. I even hotwired a PHY on a 10/100 network card. Works alright in 10 Mbit/s mode (2.5 Mbit/s to the FPGA). But have serious issues at 100 Mbit/s mode (25 Mbit/s to the FPGA). Cable length, shielding and ground is critical..

 

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Developing for Intel/Altera FPGA on Linux works just fine, using the official Linux release of Quartus. I would prefer to use open source tools across the board, but right now Intel is able to maintain decent availability. I was able to buy a DE10 Nano and have it shipped from Taiwan in 3-4 days, despite Terasic saying it was on "back order". That back order appears to be pretty immediate, and they may be putting that on the website to prevent people from making bulk orders or just simply depress demand so that a lot of people don't bother ordering.

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  • 2 weeks later...

@SlithyMatt , have look at the license agreement that comes with the software. Some FPGA vendors are horrors in this respect, and in essence you don't own your own code and the software can only be used in very specific circumstances etc. Conditions on the distribution of synthesized (compiled) binaries for the FPGA etc.

The devil is in the details.

 

 

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