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A couple years back in my Digital Electronics class we designed circuits in NI Multisim and then used Xilinx Impact to put it on a FPGA board via USB.

It has been a while since I dealt with that stuff and I am again interested in designing circuits doing more with it. I really have no clue what board I used in class other than it was the size of a computer motherboard and had a small breadboard for sensors and to light up led's, control motors, etc.

What kind of board do you recommend for this beginner use and future?

Also if you have any software/applications that would be helpful, please suggest.

Just found a great article: http://hamsterworks.co.nz/mediawiki/index.php/FPGA_course

Edit: Here is a couple of questions I have created after some answers.

How do I know if a board can take PLD Logic from Multisim?

What can I use the ports on the board for (serial, expansion headers)?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Was it the NI Elvis system (ni.com/nielvis -- and older versions look very different)? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 22:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ScottSeidman Nope, it had only a small breadboard. But do you recommend it? \$\endgroup\$
    – MLM
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 22:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nope. I have a love/hate relationship with NI. IMO, perfect stuff in some situations and extra baggage in others. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 1:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've updated my web site... all of this is now a PDF file - I've updated the web site with the details. The PDF file deals with not only the Basys2, but a new board that GadgetFactory have put together. \$\endgroup\$
    – user12044
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 9:40

3 Answers 3

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I don't know what your budget is, but Digilent have quite a couple of different boards - and also offer student discounts. We used the Spartan3/3E starter boards and the Nexys2 boards at my university.

A Spartan3/6 board would allow you to do all the basic stuff, and the Xilinx ISE Webpack software suite used for programming it is freely available.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The Spartan 3E does look promising. The one I used at school had a breadboard so that I could add a sensor and that would react in PLD logic. I do not see how I could do something like that on that kind of board. Am I missing something? \$\endgroup\$
    – MLM
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 2:46
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I am Altera fan. The Quartus Web Edition package is a little more user friendly, and the compile times faster in my experience.

Development board wise, I would get a De1 board or a DE0-Nano. If you're interested in higher speed and lower parasitics, I would go with the DE0. I have used both of these boards, and they're both good.

Edit:

Using Multisim to develop for FPGAs is going to limit what you can do significantly, and I'm pretty sure that is a Xilinx only feature. That's a good way to learn basic gate functions, but seriously, no real developer does that. To really take advantage of an FPGA, you really need to learn an HDL. VHDL and Verilog are most common. If you really want to draw schematics with the logic gates, Quartus has that feature.

As far as the ports, most go to the FPGA pins. Some go to Vcc and Gnd for convenience. The thing you need to understand about FPGAs is they were designed to be extremely flexible and fast to develop. Very few pins on the package have a dedicated function. Outside of the obvious, like Vcc, Gnd, etc, most are general purpose IO ports. That means they can be inputs, outputs, high Z, didirectional, etc. Do you want it to be a serial port? Then you need to develop a hardware description that produces a meaningful serial output.

There is a reason that FPGA development boards are expensive. Not many sell because to really dive into FPGA development, you really need to take a class or have someone that knows what they're doing around to help you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The De1 looks like a step in the right direction. I honestly do not know what to look for in one of these boards so anything you can tell me to look for will help greatly. I added a few questions to OP. \$\endgroup\$
    – MLM
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 2:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for shedding some more light as I have realized I have not used the full potential of one of these boards. I am very interested in doing something with HDMI once I get much more acquainted. Do you have any recommendations with HDMI capability? It seems a lot of people are using a Spartan 6. \$\endgroup\$
    – MLM
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 3:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe this: www.digilentinc.com/atlys/ \$\endgroup\$
    – MLM
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 4:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would not touch HDMI. 1. It has video and audio signals coming at you on 3 data lines. 2. The bitrate is 10.2 Gbits/sec. That's 340MHz. That's really fast, and not beginner friendly. Can an FPGA do it alone, however? Absolutely, but I'm betting there's an IC on the market that makes it much easier.. If you really want to do video, start off with VGA. There are a lot less bits to deal with, and there's no audio signal there to cause confusion. Remember, we're describing hardware here, not programming. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Young
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 11:21
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I just bought this board to play with:

enter image description here

Avnet Spartan-6 LX9 MicroBoard

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This looks hard to use without a usb hub/extender. I guess I have not used the full potential from a fpga board but what do I use the network port for? Also can I put PLD logic on this? \$\endgroup\$
    – MLM
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 2:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess it might be hard to connect the USB - but its by far the cheapest Spartan6 dev board I've seen so far. The network is for... network applications. There is a project included that runs a web server! \$\endgroup\$
    – dext0rb
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 3:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ It comes with a USB cable extension! \$\endgroup\$
    – dext0rb
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 3:56

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