FPGA:Getting started

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Getting started

Hopefully if you are reading this you will have a shiny new FPGA development board. So here's a few notes to help you get started with it

  • Read your board's reference manual before you power it up. There are most probably jumper or two that need to be set correctly before you apply power
  • Download and install any required drivers on your PC or laptop before you first plug your board. If you plug the board in first it could download any random driver from the interweb. Once again the board's reference manual is invaluable
  • Most boards will have a self-test design installed at the factory. Don't worry if you accidentally overwrite it, you can always reprogram it
  • The Vendor's EDA tools are required to make your own FPGA designs. For most low-end Xilinx FPGAs from Xilinx you will want "ISE Webpack". Registration is required but for low-end chips the tools are free. Be warned, it is a very large download! I always install the 'full' ISE version, but only install a WebPack license during the licensing process
  • Only on Windows 8, ISE will not work correctly unless a DLL is swapped. See the link under 'references' for a how-to that fixes this issue

Keeping your board safe

These boards are pretty robust - in a few years of using them I'm yet to fry one. However, here is a few ways to ensure your board has a long and happy life.

  • It pays to keep them safe in some ESD-safe packaging when not in use
  • If your board doesn't have any 'legs' or 'rubber bumps' on the bottom you might want to get some, as without them you are quite likely to accidentally snag a cable and drag your board into a pile of loose change
  • Most boards have only female sockets for their expansion connectors, which are pretty robust - if your board has any exposed pins (like the Raspberry Pi expansion connector on the Logi-Pi) it make sure that no pins were bent while it was in the post or was stuck in the bottom of the draw
  • Unless you are really brave don't plug or unplug anything while power is applied
  • If your board has tiny DIP switches don't use anything metal to flick them - use a wooden toothpick


If your board is powered and programmed over USB there are a lot of users who have and problems with sub-standard USB cables that cause a whole range of weird issues.

The amount of power used by a development board varies depending on what current design is doing, and sometimes this can confuses USB power management. To avoid issues don't use your FPGA board with a passive USB hub. It has also been reported that some powered hubs are a bit dicey too.

Project - Download and install the EDA tools

Head over to Xilinx's Download Center (http://www.xilinx.com/support/download.html) and grab the ISE installer. The default tab is for the Vivado suit, that only works for the latest and high end chips. Make sure you select the "ISE Design Tools" tab. Strangely enough, if you are using Windows they ship the installer in a Linux/UNIX 'gz' file. You will need to have something like '7-zip' to extract it.


Xilinx ISE information

http://www.xilinx.com/publications/matrix/Software_matrix.pdf - Details on what devices are supported by the different editions of ISE.

http://gadgetfactory.net/learn/2013/09/12/having-problems-installing-xilinx-ise-on-windows-8-64bit-here-is-a-fix-video-included/ - Informantion and video on fix required to make ISE run under Windows 8.

http://www.7-zip.org/ - A file compress/expand utility for Windows that understands the 'gz' file format.

Logi quick start guide


Papilio quick start guide


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