Just to start off, not having worked within the design phase of FPGAs, let alone Xilinx, this workshop (or actually set of workshops) was like drinking from a fire hose. But like so many “new” things we try you get out of it what you put into it. For me these sets of workshops were very interesting and although it only scratched the surface of the FPGA design process, I learned enough to want to go deeper.
As mentioned above, the entire workshop was divided in 3 1 to 1.5 hour sessions:
Part 1: Learn about Xilinx FPGAs and Embedded Processing
Part 2: Building a Custom Microcontroller in Minutes
Part 3: Rapid Sensor Prototyping with Digilent Peripheral Modules
Although the workshop used the Digilent Arty-S7 dev board, it was only the platform for exploring Xilinx’s Spartan 7 FPGA and the new Vivado 2020.1 Design Tools with integrated Vitis IDE. The main instructor for the workshops was Jayson Bethurem from Xilinx. In the introduction of the first workshop he states his goal is to show how easy and quick it was to build a FPGA project using the Xilinx toolset, which he does very well. The software masks many of the time consuming tasks for the beginning programmer, but I was left with the feeling that to fully optimize a “useful” project design one would need to spend a great deal of time digging “behind the curtain”. Element 14 does offer some other “on-demand” webinars that are very helpful in outlining the feature of the design tools.
Jayson mentioned that the original attempt at the seminar was in the form of a single workshop, but there was too much information to cover and many attendees had problems completing the exercises. I believe the 3 session format was better because it allowed for more time to debug issues and explore features not covered in the sessions. However Jayson does get excited and can talk very fast. I’m glad the sessions were recorded so that I could go over them (sometimes more than once) while frequently pausing the videos.
As expected with any “live” presentation, not everything went on without a glitch. The slides were shown through the media player instead of the slide panel. During the demonstrations, Jayson would mention viewing the board, but at least I could not see the board views. The part 3 demo was especially plagued with expected problem so that we were no able to complete all the desired material.
I find I like to download and print the presentation slides before a webinar so that I can add comments to them throughout the session. Although Jayson supplied slides to download, he also presented additional slides during each session that were not available for downloading. Another issue was with the Q & A panel. Although I could see my questions, other attendee’s questions were not displayed.
As noted above the workshop was divided into 3 presentations, each building on the previous session. Session 1 was a brief overview of the features of the Spartan 7 FPGA and the design tools. The lab basically was to install the design tools.
Session 2 walks you through the process of building a Xilinx custom royalty-free MicroBlaze embedded “soft” processor/microcontroller while exploring multiple options and features. The labs notes are very detailed, but you must have a sharp eye during the actual session since things move very quickly.
Like the previous lab, Session 3 offers very detailed instructions for adding Pmod sensor modules to the Arty S7 dev board. Along with Jayson’s presentation, Bryan Fletcher from Avnet outlines the many interesting available Pmod sensor boards. The lab uses a PmodNav.
One last note relating to the design tools was that some processes can take a while to run, depending on your PC, while giving little feedback. There is a small status note in the upper right-hand corner (see picture below).
The workshop was very useful and I highly recommended it for those considering a step into FPGA design.