I get asked pretty often about how to get into FPGA design or how to become a good or even great FPGA developer. Since I get asked quite often, I decided to put my thoughts down here instead of typing it out again and again forever. I hope what I write here will help you on your journey. I think some of the content might be useful to non-FPGA developers even though I don’t really plan for it to be as such.
This article is meant for readers who have already made it through their first FPGA course, maybe they are in a masters program or they might be in the first few years of their new job as an FPGA developer. It is not really meant for beginners but might be useful for them none the less.
One of the most annoying things when working on an early design on an FPGA development kit is a lack of run-time register interfaces without a lot of effort.
While looking for an interface that would work on basically any Vivado supported Xilinx FPGA I came across the JTAG to AXI Master core supplied by Xilinx. Unfortunately it has a cumbersome interface that is intended for the user to drive from Vivado’s TCL console which is not always the most convenient. Others have been looking for a C API to interact with the hw_server directly. There seems to be someone that has had put together a C library but I was unable to get the files. I wanted something easier to use anyways so I began to look elsewhere for a solution.
Recently I started using an FTDI FT232H in FT245 synchronous FIFO mode with an Intel MAX10 FPGA. I am using an FT232R based USB Blaster (Not a USB Blaster II, this is an older Altera USB Blaster, Terasic USB Blaster or another clone). Unfortunately when Quartus looks for programming devices it fails if it sees the FT232H first and the FT232H is in use by another program.
Previously, I wrote about the Cypress PSoC5LP microcontroller that I have been playing with. The CY8C5888LTI-LP097 on the CY8CKIT-059 dev-kit can be used to make a very crude radio transmitter. Today I will be explaining how to make some simple transmissions from a PSoC to a computer equipped with an RTL-SDR and SDR# acting as our radio receiver. We will be using configurable digital hardware to create the transmitter.
NOTE: If you decide to recreate my experiment, you should take a look at your country’s regulations for radio communicating devices. For example, the FCC in the United States allows hobbyists to create and operate up to 5 low power devices without a license as long as you follow some rules. Still, be responsible and don’t operate this for any longer then you need to know it works.
I recently picked up a Cypress CY8CKIT-059 to play with for about $10 from Mouser. The kit contains a CY8C5888LTI-LP097 chip that features an ARM Cortex M3 that can run up to 80 Mhz, pretty run of the mill. However, the chip also features a small amount of CPLD resources and configurable datapaths that can be used to implement any digital logic that you can fit in. Cypress calls these blocks universal digital blocks. You can implement your own logic blocks in Verilog or use Cypress’s IP cores that are included with PSoC Creator. The idea is to avoid predefining how many UART, I2C, SPI or other interfaces to include which gives you more freedom to choose the combinations of peripherals you need rather than using pin muxes like on Microchip PIC’s and Atmel AVR’s for example. With the PSoC 5LP you can have 5 UARTs if you wanted and you can put those UARTs on any GPIO pin you want.