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Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
849 Views

University Looking to Update Old Hardware

I am the Electrical Engineering Lab supervisor at a University in Pennsylvania and we are looking to update our PLD collection, programming interface, software (well basically everything) related to PLDs and CPLDs. We have, many years ago before I took this job, used the EPM7160SCL84-10, EPM7032LC44-15 and the EP610DC-35 chips, but have not been able to for several years since the software and hardware that programs them runs on Windows XP and needs to check the license before running and since XP is no longer secure our IT department no longer allows it on the network meaning we can no longer use the current set up.  

 

Ideally we want to avoid dev boards and would like to program individual chips that can be put on a breadboard (these are the professor's requests). We want to use these within the context of a first semester digital class (undergrad) where the students can easily program simple circuits that will drive a 7 segment display, for example. The professor wants to expose the students, who build the circuits throughout the semester using 7400 series chips for their class labs, a more modern way of implimenting logic. 

 

I have been looking around for some time now for the solution and have not been able to find exactly what we want. I want to know if anyone knows of a solution that will fill our needs: ability to program individual chips that can be breadboarded (adapter boards can be used with TQFPs), TTL compatible logic levels would be preferred, and ease of use (they won't have all semester to learn how to program). 

 

Any help would be greatly appreciated.
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14 Replies
Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

I was going to recommend cheap dev kits until you said you want to do breadboarding, which complicates things. I'd recommend contacting the Intel FPGA University Program for ideas and assistance: 

 

https://www.altera.com/support/training/university/overview.html
Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

I think what is going to happen is that the idea of dropping a chip (anymore) onto a breadboard is just not realistic, but I want to make sure that is what we will need to do. We have Quartus Prime 17 on our school network and dev board is probably what we will do. That was my recommendation, but.. you know. Thanks. What would you recommed dev board wise?

Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

Based on your requirements, you could probably get away with a MAX 10 or Cyclone V (regular or SoC) kit. Terasic makes some great cheap kits in this space, and starter kits from Intel FPGA are really good as well. 

 

https://www.altera.com/products/boards_and_kits/all-development-kits.html
Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

"Individual chips that can be placed on a breadboard" (meaning DIP form factor most likely) is no longer realistic. FPGAs/CPLDs (modern parts) are invariably SMT packaging. 

 

That being said, there are solutions for this, being mini development boards that are setup in a DIP form factor, suitable for plugging into breadboards. 

 

Digilent makes a number of them in their CMOD series: https://store.digilentinc.com/search.php?search=&search_query=cmod  

They range from lower end CPLDs for basic logic, to a mid size (Spartan) and a higher end (Artix) FPGA part. 

 

Sadly I don't know of any vendor that produces equivalent types of boards that use Altera parts (Digilent boards are Xilinx based, just like TerAsic boards are Altera based). 

No technical reason you could not, just no vendor support. Maybe someone else knows of similar types of pluggable boards with Altera parts.
Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

74-series logic is also very very oldschool. I think it was pretty old when I was at uni nearly 20 years ago. 

Building things on a breadboard will just not happen in industry, and be of little use to the students. What will be useful is using a dev board and understanding the interfaces, reading the docs on the interface control for external chips, and designing the logic to plumb it together. I think all chips have at least an I2C interface now, which often is controlled via a CPU through an FPGA.  

 

You can get powerful dev boards for very little money that will do ethernet, HDMI etc. Spend a little more and you'll get PCIe. These are what will give them good grounding for future employment. 

 

If I had the choice of a student who'd made a circuit with some 74 chips and some very basic logic on a tiny FPGA, or someone who could get a SoC system up and running in a few days - I know who I'd choose.
Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

I did say it was a first semester digital class (i.e. where students are introduced to AND gates for the first time) and if what you said was meant to be a little condescensding I don't appreciate it! I think the skills they learn (hopefully learn) debugging a malfunctioning circuit pays out large dividends in the long run. Basic problem solving skills is something most people have to learn and are not born with. I do agree, though, and would like to see more higher end projects even in our later FPGA class, but how many students right out of school who have spent 2-3 years learning all the basics of EE can do something like "get a SoC system up and running in a few days" and the logic to connect it all if they haven't learned the basics of logic?! But if you have a board you think we should consider I would listen to that.

Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

I have seen too many 'electrical engineers' in recent years that have gone thru a four year degree program and have never learned how to connect an oscilloscope or logic analyzer to circuitry and then analyze and debug it. There is no substitute for beginners to have hands on to basic logic in the lab with simple to analyze devices (like 74xx stuff) and be able to physically probe it. Just wiring a bunch of devices via SPI or I2C and then turning the exercise into a software development project is not sufficient. 

 

I agree with the OP that there is more than enough time in an advanced lab or project course to dive into a complex FPGA, DSP, or SOC project. But you need the basics first, and preferably in the lab where you generate and analyze the causes of magic smoke emission. And learn how to not ever do it again.
Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

I must appologise for my post. It was late, I didnt read the message properly and I just fired something out.  

 

I think you will struggle to find anything to fit your bill directly? By how about something like a rasberry pie? (https://www.raspberrypi.org/) With the 40 pin GPIO connector you could easily wire up the outputs to a breadboard, and may be a more familiar environment to some students already, but now you're introducing custom external hardware. Plus this keeps it all in line with embedded systems that are pervasive in industry. And it's cheap. 

 

Going with the diligent (or similar) above may work, but you are going to be introducing tools that will be unfamiliar to the students (ISE, Vivado, Quartus) that will have a cost implication over time with licences. With the Pi, its all free and open source.
Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

I could not agree more. We have grad students who get their undergrad from other countries (their home) that emphasize theory and have no hands on who come here and have no idea what they are doing practically. I constantly come across students into their senior year who still don't grasp the difference between DC coupling and AC coupling on a scope and when to use the correct one when probing a circuit. Even when students can't get a circuit in a lab to work (if they are working outside the normal lab time) I force them to trouble shoot on their own first before running to me to fix it for them. But I am getting off topic.

Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

No worries. Apology accepted. I know what it's like when the caffine has left your system and it's the end of a long day. I think even something as simple as a micro or an Arduino could easily impliment a simple boolean expression with if statements and the learning curve is less steep than even a Pi and certainly easier than a CPLD or FPGA. What we may end up doing is giving them the code to set something up (Pi, micro, FPGA, whatever) and more introduce them to something and give them a tour of what they will learn in more depth in a later class. Not entirely sure, but I appreciate your input.

Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

 

--- Quote Start ---  

I must appologise for my post. It was late, I didnt read the message properly and I just fired something out.  

 

I think you will struggle to find anything to fit your bill directly? By how about something like a rasberry pie? (https://www.raspberrypi.org/) With the 40 pin GPIO connector you could easily wire up the outputs to a breadboard, and may be a more familiar environment to some students already, but now you're introducing custom external hardware. Plus this keeps it all in line with embedded systems that are pervasive in industry. And it's cheap. 

 

Going with the diligent (or similar) above may work, but you are going to be introducing tools that will be unfamiliar to the students (ISE, Vivado, Quartus) that will have a cost implication over time with licences. With the Pi, its all free and open source. 

--- Quote End ---  

 

 

Xilinx licensing for the low end devices is free just as it is for Altera, so little or no cost impact there. It would be good for university students to have exposure to Xilinx toolset flow (ISE, Vivado) as well as Altera (Quartus). University students should learn how to use Windows AND linux, not just one or another. That's what school is for. 

 

Yeah I know this is an Altera based forum but the real world out there is more than just Altera and university students should be exposed to multiple vendors. 

 

And as much as I like Raspberry PI (for embedded linux hacking) or Arduino (for embedded bare-metal hacking) these are basically software development platforms so they really serve a different purpose than, for example, the Digilent CPLD or FPGA based development boards do. Electrical engineers today do need exposure to embedded software concepts, so a lab with Arduino boards is probably a requirement as well (I think Raspberry PI is overkill, but that is my opinion). But an electrical engineer still needs to understand the concepts of circuits and gates and logic, how to use them, and when to use them. Not everything can be reduced to a software problem. At least not yet.
Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

How about this: 

 

https://hackaday.com/2016/02/04/a-better-way-to-plug-a-cpld-into-a-breadboard/ 

 

Maybe you could get it built by a contractor, since it has all the project files listed or tweak it and design your own.  

 

The original designer here might also have some useful input on your project needs (since he already built something like what you need). 

 

BTW, I don't understand why you could not just update the Software, since Altera/Intel still supports the MAX7000 series with current Software: 

https://www.altera.com/products/general/devices/max7k/utilities/m7k-software.html 

 

Do you mean that the PCs running Windows XP can't be updated to a later version of Windows? Or you don't have the budget to update 

that piece of the overall system?
Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

We have the hardware programmers (ZIF sockets and all) that uses an ISA card (yes ISA!). We have tried something like a USB to ISA adapter (in the past), but that never worked mostly because of the need for a 32 bit system (I think, again most of this is before I took the job). I came across the hackaday link before, but didn't look too closely at the chip he was using, but took a closer look thanks to your suggestion and will pursue using some of the chips we have and build our own boards if all we'll need is the USB blaster to program them. I will also continue on with the FPGAs as well. Good to have a backup plan! I was approved for a couple of board donations and will play around with those once received. Thanks for all the help.

Altera_Forum
Honored Contributor I
72 Views

I googled the ISA/ZIF programmers, and it sounds like you may have the LP3 or LP6? (skipped forward to show 

the generations of Altera programmers): 

https://youtu.be/momg3iovp5c?t=560 

 

I wonder if you could do something like seen here, where you have a simple breakout board with jumpers 

to the breadboard: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4e6_-8fmmwg 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le6jo5dplao (https://youtu.be/le6jo5dplao?t=1120

 

That would be more tedious and less organized for students to connect up than the hackaday project for the same  

number of IOs, but might open up more buying options. Maybe you already considered it and looked elsewhere.
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