It seems that 2018 is going to be the 'Year of the FPGA' here on element14, so I thought I'd join in, buy a small

development board and do a simple project or two.

 

Here's the board I settled on in the end. Rather than go for Xilinx, which I've worked with in the past, I

decided to experiment with a Lattice FPGA and their toolset. I liked the look of this board because it's

quite simple, with just an XP2 series FPGA part (in the kind of package where you can see all the pins) along

with a fast SRAM and an SPI flash memory. They probably haven't brought out enough I/O pins to satisfy MK,

but there's plenty for what I want and they come out to standard 0.1" pin headers, so prototyping will be

easy. A nice feature is having the programmer on the board in the form of an FTDI chip, so no need to buy an

expensive programming cable and, as it's Lattice's own board, their development software knows how to talk to

it. A further advantage of having the FTDI part there is that the second channel can function as a UART

connection between the FPGA and the PC.

 

If you study the following photo carefully you may be able to spot the typo that lead to my title for this

blog (if you don't know what a Boojum is, see reference [1] below).

 

 

Here are photographs of top and bottom.

 

 

 

Product LinkProduct Link

 

It's a nicely made, 4-layer board, with all the appropriate decoupling, so no complaints there.

 

The FPGA comes preprogrammed with a soft processor (Lattice calls it the Mico8) that runs code that enables

it to present a menu to the PC and execute simple commands. So my first task was to see if I could get that

functioning before doing anything of my own.

 

I'd already installed Lattice's Diamond design software before purchasing the board. I did that as a safety

measure - no point buying the board if I couldn't develop with it. The design software is free, but does

require registering and setting up a user account. The software is node-locked to the MAC address of the

computer. The first time I installed it, it failed to work and I just got two pop-up boxes with unhelpful

messages before it shut down (telling you that there has been a program exception isn't really very useful).

 

At first I thought it might be licensing - I'd inadvertantly used the WiFi MAC address rather than the

ethernet one to get a licence file - but changing to a licence based on the ethernet didn't help, so I

uninstalled the software and reinstalled it. When I reinstalled, I accepted everything and that time it was

fine (the first time I'd gone for a cut-down install to save space).

 

Since I'd already installed the design software, which apparently includes drivers, I just plugged the dev

board into the PC and ignored the warnings on the packaging to install drivers first. However, regardless of

that, Windows went off and fetched a driver from somewhere. Then I was posed with a puzzle. In the Device

Manager, the board showed up under USB devices but there was no COM port so I didn't know what to enter into

pUTTY's setup. After fiddling around for a bit, I realised that the properties for the B channel had a tick

box for VCP (virtual COM port), I ticked that, that gave me the COM port but without a port number, I pulled

the USB and reinserted it, and finally had COM5 that I could enter into the properties on the serial set-up

of pUTTY (a bit painful, but that's computers for you).

 

 

When I pressed the reset on the board I saw this on the terminal. You can see I've issued a couple of

commands and the replies that came back. So I seem to have a working board that can talk to the PC.

 

 

Next task will be to see if I can get a little, simple VHDL synthesised and on to the board - maybe count on

the LEDs, or something like that. Then I'll have a go at doing a real project (probably something music

related, as that seems like an interesting area to explore and should be a nice fit with the FPGA's

capabilities).

 

The next part is here

Booards and Boojums: Lattice XP2 Brevia2 Board: Part 2: Count Those LEDs!

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunting_of_the_Snark