I would like to goof around with some CPLD stuff and I see I have a couple options out there. I don't have a particular application in mind; it just seems like there a lot of possibilities, some of which are easier to use than others.

The main manufactures have development boards, some more expensive than others. They also have programmer cables that generally seem... not cheap. Doing some digging, I've come across several options and I'm looking to understand the pros/cons of each.

  1. Is it fair to say that CPLDs with X Macrocells are more or less the same?
  2. Although the JTAG interface is standard, for the purposes of programming the part, there is no standard previous JTAG Question. Is this a matter of the vendor software talking to the programmer? Do things become more standard if I use some other utility to dump a binary file?
  3. Some of the platforms have cheaper alternatives. I'm wondering what the catches are with these in terms of USB/parallel port, Linux/Windows.
  4. Assuming I get comfortable with a development board, how difficult is the transition to just using one of the base parts directly? My impression is that in the major options, it's just a matter of some header pins and a couple diodes/resistors. Am I far off on this?
  5. How would I program the devices in my own designs? If I have a development board or starter kit, will I then have to go back and buy an expensive programmer? Why does a dev board sell for cheap but the programmer runs hundreds of dollars? Presumably the dev board comes with the ability to program.

Here are some of the options that stand out for me. I list the prices only to differentiate them from the multi-hundred-dollar options. All of them are in the ballpark for me. I'm looking for the hiden costs in terms of ease of use, software issues and so on.

Xilinx is a popular path. I could do:

The Digilent cable requires using their software which is currently windows only, so I'd need to go the $48 USB route.

Another Xilinx possibility is

Switching companies to Lattice:

I like the idea of using Lattice parts as Mouser.com carries them (I don't see much Xilinx there). I tend to order more from them. Once I get comfortable with their stuff, I'm guessing that I could hack up a programmer cable based on the schematics of this board. It looks really straight forward. Could I use the eval board as a programmer? The do expose the JTAG header?

The Lattice MachXO2 Pico kit ($29) also looks to be a great value, though the part that it's showcasing is more expensive.

Altera also has good offerings.

  • A programmer can be had from EBay for ($15)
  • A demo board can be had from EBay for ($28)

Alternately, Altera has

  • A starter kit for ($50)

Which of these is the better route for a beginner that is easier to get working (drivers and such), has some staying power, and perhaps offers the most flexibility?


closed as off-topic by PeterJ, Daniel Grillo, Ricardo, Nick Alexeev Jan 30 '15 at 0:26

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This site is a good place to learn about CPLD types, manufacturers, and programming systems, but it doesn't cater well to comparing current offerings dollar-for-dollar from current distributors. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer May 9 '11 at 18:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you revise your question to be less focused on the current prices and offerings, and more focused on cross-platform drivers, staying power of the part, and flexibility? Then we could educate you and future readers, rather than just giving you a link. (See the [shopping] tag and FAQ for more info on this policy). \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer May 9 '11 at 18:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @reemrevnivek I've added to the question. Hopefully, it clarifies the questions rattling around in my head. \$\endgroup\$ – mmccoo May 9 '11 at 22:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ related: "Cheap FPGA dev board" \$\endgroup\$ – davidcary May 24 '13 at 3:14

I much prefer the Altera MAX II CPLDs to those from Xilinx. They are actually small FPGAs, but Altera keeps quiet about that. I've designed my own PCBs for Xilinx and Altera CPLDs, it's quite easy. Low-cost programming cables for both Xilinx and Altera devices are available on Ebay, I use them with FPGAs and don't have any problems with both Xilinx and Altera parts. At the prices asked it isn't worth making your own any more.

Altera's software is much easier to use than Xilinx's. I'd download the software for the devices you are thinking of using and try it before making a final decision.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've found some ebay Altera programmers as you've suggested. Thank you. I'm not able to find a Xilinx compatible one. What should I search for? \$\endgroup\$ – mmccoo May 9 '11 at 22:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think it was this one: cgi.ebay.co.uk/Xilinx-FPGA-CPLD-USB-download-Cable-JTAG-/… There are others. \$\endgroup\$ – Leon Heller May 10 '11 at 0:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Search for "Xilinx cable" \$\endgroup\$ – Leon Heller May 10 '11 at 0:08

If what you are wanting to learn is VHDL or Verilog then you don't really need a development board. xilinx has free compilers and simulators. Learning good simulation technique is arguably a more important skill than anything you would learn from actually using hardware.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ True but it's so much more exciting to see an actual LED blink :) \$\endgroup\$ – John Burton Feb 24 '12 at 17:50

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