I'm looking for something that I can play around with but not spend too much on. I'm not eligible for an academic discount so take that into account when making suggestions.
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One of the Digilent kits would be ideal; I've got one of their Spartan-3 kits. It's an older chip but the board probably has most things on it that you are likely to need, and lots of pins are brought out to connectors for other stuff that you might want to interface to it. They start at $109. Mine has one of the 400k gate chips on it, they don't seem to sell that option any more.
I formed this support group for users. Xilinx has their own forums, as well.
Papilio One is fairly cheap, but it doesn't have any I/O devices on it, such as switches, LEDs, displays and whatnot. On the plus side, they have some thorough examples - including a usable Arduino and a logic analyzer. Digilent's Basys2 costs considerably more but has lots of switches, lights, connectors and direct Xilinx WebPack support.
Lattice has a smaller Lattice XP2 Brevia development kit for $49. That's with no-cost software, switches, LEDs and expansion ports. The downsides are (as far as I know): no simulation, and requires a real parallel port to program - or the USB cable which costs over twice as much. I have programmed these using a generic FTDI based programmer too.
Terasic offer a bunch of Altera based development boards, with prices ranging from $79 (academic) or $119. Not quite as low budget, but look like good deals, with plenty of easily accessible I/O as well as useful ports, switches and LEDs.
Also, while not one of the cheaper boards at €139+VAT, our Cyclone IV based ORDB2A development board does feature a USB on-the-go capable connector (it can function as a host, albeit only 12Mbps) and micro-SD slot, two features I haven't noticed on other boards mentioned here. It lacks user peripherals like LEDs and switches, which might make it less suited as a beginner board.
The DE0-Nano is a great cheap board to start out with. It has the latest Cyclone IV FPGA from Altera and it supports a lot of features. Altera also provides great labs for it.
Not the easiest to access I/O but a cool form factor: The BeMicro Altera Cyclone 3. I am partial to Altera over Xilinx. I know Xilinx has a free web tool kit but Altera is free-er for longer (into the development cycle) if I remember it correctly. Plus I like their SOPC system builder, it's pretty simple to compile an on-board soft-core processor.
Bonus: labs included on the site to get you started.
This page is probably worth a look even if you won't end up rolling your own :)
Fusion Starter Kit is $500. That is what I have (for $300, before they increased the price). The Libero software is very well done. Highly recommend Actel in general because of superior software quality. I'd reather spend few hundred dollars more than beat my head against wall with some "well known" little bug, which I was supposed to know about, but did not.
We have a Xilinx Spartan 3A FPGA based board available in store, selling for $50 right now. Not a high end one, but great for beginners. See the board here.
There are good tutorials to get started as well at http://numato.com/tutorials/
That Mercury looks nice. But then so do the Xula and Xula-2: http://www.xess.com/prods/prod055.php
If budget drives everything, however, do an eBay search for Xilinx FPGA (or Altera if you want). There are a few development board out of China, selling for about $30, based on the older Spartan-3 FPGA's.
The new(*) "Mojo" FPGA dev board deserves inclusion on this list.
- Spartan 6 XC6SLX9 FPGA
- 84 digital IO pins
Note that the main site http://embeddedmicro.com/development-boards/mojo-v3.html examples use Verilog, but via the Xilinx ISE you can also use VHDL.
(*) early 2013 KickStarter campaign: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1106670630/mojo-digital-design-for-the-hobbyist
Yann, I have posted the source code at our google code base. The code is based on WxWidgets. Should be easy to port to Linux with minor modifications (The serial library used by in the code is not Linux compatible though).
Look for elbert_config_utility_win_src at http://code.google.com/p/numato-open-source/downloads/list
The Digilent Atlys uses a Spartan6 X45. This is a great chip for DSP work in that it has 58 DSP48 slices. Each of these does 18x18-bit multiplies and two adders at a 390MHz rate. The general logic is 6822 "slices" = 27,000 bits worth of 1-bit fast adder (or 27,000 or 54,000 general logic functions of 6 or 5 variables), and the general logic can clock somewhat faster. It also has 2Mbits of fast onboard SRAM, 320 MHz.
The board includes a lot of nice stuff such as 1Gbit of DDR SDRAM with a 1.6GBytes/sec peak bandwidth. I'm messing around with the HDMI interface right now. It's driving a DVI type monitor with a 1280x1024 pixels. I'm implementing the circuitry for a logic-analyzer so I can debug with that monitor (as a text overlay on top of the graphics background). Lot's of fun.
They sell it for $349, or $200 if you can get an academic. (And who doesn't know someone at a university?) Finally, the development system is the ISE from Xilinx which, for this size FPGA, is free.
We have a great little FPGA development board on our site, comes with a lot of on-board extras like 8-channel ADC, 4-Mbit SRAM, 50 MHz clock, and 5 V tolerant I/O pins. We designed it in a 64-pin DIP package for use on a breadboard. It is USB programmable for quick loading and testing of new FPGA designs. It is selling for $69 right now. Have a look at it on our site at http://www.micro-nova.com
We also have tutorials that should help you get going if your new to FPGAs.
While technically not an FPGA (its a PLD), this little guy can be had for $42+shipping and has buttons, LCD, flash, and temp sensor: http://www.latticesemi.com/en/Products/DevelopmentBoardsAndKits/MachXO2PicoDevelopmentKit.aspx
We have a new Spartan 6 FPGA board available with 512Mbit DDR SDRAM, FT2232H USB device and up to 158 IOs. It probably is worth taking a look at on our store.