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Good Morning,

I am a scripting programmer (PHP) and do a lot of backend development with web servers. I am very interested in learning VHDL, but the tutorials I have tried seem very antiquated and difficult to follow without some previous coding experience directly in that language. I am considering buying a Xilinx FPGA, but would like to learn more before I make an out-of-pocket purchase.

I especially interested in online or downloadable testing environments where I can prove out a theory before I move forward.

Any advise here is appreciated!

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My advice is to borrow a book at the library. Most of the books on VHDL will cover the basics well but not teach all the nuances, and you really do need the basics because logic design is fundamentally different from imperative programming.

There are many simulation tools available to test your theories, including Xilinx WebPack (gratis) which you'll be using if you do get a Xilinx based board later, or GHDL for a free software example. Several books already come with an analysis/simulation tool.

Once you have a fair knowledge of the structure of the language, dig around for examples. Opencores.org is one place to look, and fpga4fun.com has basic examples. You may even want to head there first for links to tutorials, explanations and so on.

Edit:

Most projects won't be very interesting in simulation alone, so you'll quickly want to get some hardware to play with as well. These will have a bunch of concerns, such as purchase price, tool flexibility, and included peripherals. Kits like Spartan 3[AE] Starter have a fair range, from expansion ports through switches and LEDs to video and audio ports. Simpler ones like Papilio One may have nothing at all but what you add. Make sure you get the software side working, though, because there's little more frustrating than a limited time license to use what you paid for while it doesn't work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you advocating a reading-only learning path, like this question: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/4658 ? When would you advise with hardware? \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Oct 1 '10 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, not at all. Sorry if it came off that way. Experimentation is vital, and my own first test board was actually not even a premade kit but a CPLD basically hooked up to the parallel port. Hardware tends to be a matter more limited by your wallet. \$\endgroup\$ – Yann Vernier Oct 1 '10 at 19:23
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There is the book "Elements of Computing Systems : Building a modern computer from first principles" which includes a companion simulator that lets you build almost any chip you want to simulate. The software is free and open source and you do not have to purchase the book to use it. The other book I recommend is "Digital Electronics : A practical approach with VHDL" it uses an Altera FPGA to demonstrate important concepts and teaches you VHDL along the way.

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I've been in a similar boat and I can recommend two books that have been assisting me in getting "up-to-speed". Both books were recommended from friends that have spent years developing VHDL.

Embedded System Design: A Unified Hardware/Software Introduction - Provides a great bottom-up discussion of hardware logic and embedded software. Related lab-style examples can also be found at this website: http://esd.cs.ucr.edu/labs/tutorial/

VHDL for Programmable Logic is another highly recommended book.

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