It all started from a bit of aimless browsing eBay. I can't remember exactly what I was looking for but a search for "Xilinx" brought up something unusual and interesting. I stumbled across this listing - a "SQRL Acorn CLE-215 Xilinx Artix 7 FPGA M.2 with PCIe carrier". Nw, I knew nothing about this device, but the low price and the fact that it had an Artix-7 FPGA with PCIe connections intrigued me. With a bit of digging I discover that the SQRL Acorn CLE-215 is an FPGA-based cryptomining card.
I'm of the opinion that cryptomining is a shocking waste of computing power and it turned out that this particular device didn't really do the cryptomining that was promised. I won't bore you with the details but a lot of people bought one at the list price of $279 or even $329 for the higher speed grade plus version. It turned out that they parted with their cash before the bitstreams were available to make the most of their investment and these bitstreams for mining alongside a GPU never materialized. Cue lots of angry cryptominers ranting on forums and some of these devices being dumped at low prices. (The best I saw were CLE-215+ versions in the US for $25. I managed to get this lower spec version for £30.)
I could see a few pros and a few cons to this. On the pro side:
- It's a nice FPGA for a good price
- I can see JTAG written on the bottom
- The PCIe interface intrigued me
On the con side:
- That JTAG head looks non-standard and tiny
- There's no documentation and the manufacturer don't have a great reputation
- I suspect PCIe may be beyond my current skillset
- I could probably do without another good intention gathering dust in a drawer. (I still have some Pano Logic thin clients which never quite got used.)
I made a quick post about it here on E14 which didn't get much response and another on EEVBlog which got a bit more, and had initially decided not to bother with it. However you probably guessed that I relented and decided to give it a go. This is what arrived in the post - the SQRL Acorn CLE-215 board with the Artix-7 onboard and a useful PCIe adapter board. This adapter looks very similar to one I got to go with an m.2 SSD recently although it also has a 12V power input as the FPGA has the potential to pull a fair bit more power than an m.2 or PCIe slot can provide.
Will I be able to turn something entirely pointless into something useful? I'll be blogging my progress as I try to get to grips with this unusual board, so we'll find out...