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Completely New to FPGAs

Honored Contributor II

Hey there, 


I'm a graduate student in EE with a strong interest in analog/analog design. My undergrad work only provided me with a small taste of FPGAs because I picked all analog courses. However, since getting into the current graduate program that I am in, I get the feeling that I should learn more about FPGAs. Currently, I do all my work with PICs when I need them. 


After comparing Xilinix's and Altera's dev boards, I decided to align myself with Altera. Mainly because they appear to offer inexpensive boards. My question to you guys is, which dev board do you recommend? I'm looking at Altera DE0 Board and the DE0 Nano board (which comes out at the end of this month). The Nano offers more LEs, an ADC, and an accelerometer. But the regular DE0 board offers more I/Os, comes with more switches, LEDs, offers 7-seg displays, and serial port already installed. At the moment, I'm leaning towards the DE0 board mainly because it's in stock and I wish to get it before Spring break so I can play with it then. But if you guys recommend the Nano then I shall wait provided convincing arguments.  


I know practically nothing about FPGAs and plan on teaching myself instead of taking undergrad courses at my uni. Can you guys also offer some good sites, books, pdfs, etc etc to make this learning process a tad easier? I've already found some "useful" pdfs, but that was after a quick search of verilog and other key words. Like I said, I'm totally new here so anything suggested is welcome with open arms.  


To be honest, I would much rather take my 100 bucks and buy parts on digikey or use the money towards my pcbs/other projects. But learning FPGAs may have its benefits. 


Any advise is much appreciated.  


Thank you all.  




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3 Replies
Honored Contributor II


for personal experience, the first exercises someone should try are very simple: turning on leds and read buttons/switches is quite a good one.  


Even more complex experiments may have a LED as a target: I am thinking at a PLL reconfiguration that makes a LED blink faster or slower. I know that the ALTPLL_RECONFIG megafunction does a lot of this job but you can build your own finite state machine to trigger and control ALTPLL_RECONFIG. Then you can do some practice on SDC constraints and PLLs. Just to tell the first non-trivial example that jumped in my mind. 


I also remember that while I was a student I did not have so much spare time during lessons or exams so having the board in time for the break should be quite good. 


These are my parameters: the choice is up to you. 



Honored Contributor II

If you're just beginning, sounds like the DE0 would definitely be suited more for your needs, as the nano has limited input/output options in terms of LEDs, switches, etc. Also, the DE0 has more mem options (SDRAM, SD Card, flash). and dont forget hte vga port. that will come in handy for simple image processing.  


FPGA size shouldn't matter that much at the beginning stages.  


I believe the DE0-Nano would be more suitable if you already had experience with FPGAs and you are wanting to get into embedded processing.
Honored Contributor II

I think it depends on what kind of applications you want to create. What kind of information do you need to supply to the application and/or what kind of control do you need? Do you need just switches or are you adding sensors via the GPIO ports? Do you need to transfer data in via SD card or even ethernet? What are your output requirements? A few blinking LEDs or LCD/VGA output? 


If you are making a blackjack card counter to put inside your shoe, the DE0-nano would be a good choice. On the other hand, the DE0 is a good choice and if you have the bucks and the student discount, the DE2 series is even more capable.