Three of the Top FPGA Dev Boards for New DesignersFebruary 18, 2018 by Donald Krambeck
Looking to get a new FPGA development board? Maybe you aren’t, but this article might persuade you to get one like our previous article did to me.
Just getting into designing with FPGAs? Looking for a new development board to help you learn? Here are three dev boards that may be a good place to start.
In our previous article on the subject, we covered the Nandland Go board, the Embedded Micro Mojo Board, and the Papilio DUO.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the latest FPGA development boards that are on the market. We’ll be focusing on boards that are designed for beginner and intermediate designers. While some advanced boards, such as the NetFPGA-SUME Virtex-7, could cost almost several thousand dollars, it’s important to note that the boards covered here are intentionally in a much more affordable range.
Digilent Arty S7: Spartan-7
The Arty S7 board. Image courtesy of Digilent.
This board from Digilent came out in March of 2017. The Spartan-7 has a lot of goodies in such a small form factor. Out of the box, the Arty S7 includes four switches, four buttons, one board reset button, one FPGA reset button, four green LEDs, and two RGB LEDs. The development board also includes four Pmod connectors and an Arduino/chipKIT shield connector for various expansions.
While there is a USB port that can deliver the power required for many designs, what if your design requires extra voltage? For this purpose, the board can either be powered by the 7-to-15 volt power jack (J12) port or an external battery pack could be used on one of the board’s Pmod headers. At the board’s core, it utilizes a Xilinx FPGA.
On the software end, Arty S7 comes with a free Vivado WEBPACK license that includes MicroBlaze. MicroBlaze includes the ability to create soft-core processor designs, the Logic Analyzer, and High-Level Synthesis (HLS). The Logic Analyzer is useful for logic debugging while the HLS tool allows users to compile C code directly into HDL.
The Terasic DE10-Nano dev kit. Image courtesy of Digi-Key.
The core of this board is based on the Intel FCyclone V SoC FPGA. This Intel chip incorporates the latest dual-core Cortex-AP embedded cores with top-notch programmable logic to provide for flexible designs. Compared to the Diligent Arty S7, this board also includes an onboard USB-Blaster II, 1GB SDRAM, 2x40-pin expansion headers, Gigabit Ethernet networking, and a 12-bit resolution ADC.
Intel’s SoC integrates an ARM-based hard processor system (HPS) that is comprised of a processor, peripherals, and memory that are interconnected to the FPGA through a high-bandwidth interconnect.
An add-on worth noting on the HPS side of the board is that it includes a MicroSD socket for additional memory. On the software side, the board includes Verilog and C-Code design examples and documentation, System Builder utility documentation, OpenCL Support Package, and Linux Board Support Package.
Digilient Cmod A7
The Cmod A7 board. Image courtesy of Farnell.
Another board from Digilient, the Cmod A7 is a much smaller, breadboard-friendly 48-pin DIP form factor that has a Xilinx Artix-7 FPGA at its core. With two versions, the 15T and the 35T, these are useful for any beginner that doesn’t want to spend much on a board.
The only difference between the 15T and the 35T is that the 15T has fewer look-up tables (LUTs), flip-flops, and block RAM. It's also notably small at just 0.7” by 2.75”. The board comes with a USB-JTAG programming circuit, USB-UART bridge, clock source, Pmod host controller, SRAM, Quad-SPI Flash, and basic I/O devices. The Cmod A7 also includes two LEDs, two push buttons, and one RGB LED. There’s quite a lot of documentation, tutorials, and example projects for this board that can be found here.
Have you worked with any of the boards in this article? Did we miss any boards worth covering in a followup article? Let us know in the comments below.