|Product Performed to Expectations:||10|
|Specifications were sufficient to design with:||10|
|Demo Software was of good quality:||10|
|Product was easy to use:||10|
|Support materials were available:||10|
|The price to performance ratio was good:||10|
|TotalScore:||60 / 60|
"... I highly recommend the de0-nano P0082 for newcomers to FPGA development."
There are many FPGA development boards on the market but it's not always easy as a beginner to the technology to find something that will help them learn how to use FPGA's, so when I saw this roadtest appear describing the resources it came with I couldn't resist applying.
Seeing that this development board came with a quick start guide and a development toolsuite made me confident that this was a product I could use to learn with because as somebody who has never used FPGA's it's not obvious which development software should be used and is one less thing to have to work out.
My roadtest application was based around testing the de0-nano P0082 for its suitability to enable people to enter the world of FPGA's for the first time and was absolutely delighted to be chosen!
The development board itself is built to a high standard with a clear acrylic cover over the top of the board with cutouts for the headers and brass standoffs for the feet to enable the bottom of the board to be raised from the surface its placed on which is a really nice touch.
A quick start guide is included which has a useful section outlining which software you will need to download to start developing whereas the rest of it explains how to run the pre-built demonstration software on the development board, these are provided in .bat files so compatible with Windows systems only. I did try a couple of these and the process works without any issues although you will need to download the Quartus 2 toolsuite beforehand to install the device driver that connects your computer to the development board.
I never tried all of the demonstrations as I wanted to dive straight in and learn how to develop for myself although its worth noting that there is a demonstration that can be downloaded onto the development board that allows you to test the peripherals on the board from a gui on your host computer to ensure that everything is working properly.
For unboxing pictures and further details of the quick start guide follow this link: entering-the-world-of-fpgas-with-a-deo-nano-p0082-part-1
Documentation and Software
What really makes this development board special is the documentation that comes with it, the physical media is no longer provided with the development board so needs downloading. There's a sticker on the clear plastic of the development board with a web address to download the system cd, on there is a schematic, datasheets of all of the major components on the board, user manuals and a system builder utility.
The Altera Quartus 2 toolsuite will also need downloading to develop for this board, there's links for this in the quick start guide and also links to it from the web address on the board. The Quartus 2 package is developed by Altera who makes the FPGA device on the board so I won't go into too much detail on this but it is very professional, comprehensive and easy to use. It has a standard layout style most people will be used to with a project tree in a small window on the left, an editor window filling most of the screen and a message bar at the bottom. It contains everything needed to develop an application/bitstream and download it onto the development board. This software is available for Windows or Linux and comes with a free edition.
Terasic has provided a system builder utility which can be used to provide a pre-configured project file set for use in the Quartus 2 suite but is not necessary and isn't used in the guidance material. This could become more useful as your project designs become more complicated as it also configures the pin planner to coordinate the available pins from the FPGA into an easier to reference plan onto the physical headers on the development board. This software is available for Windows only.
A section of the user manual has been copied out into a separate document file titled "my_first_fpga" and for me this is the most important part of this whole development kit, initially it outlines and demystifies the development process for FPGA's by clearly outlining the steps. Following on from that it guides us through creating a project in Quartus 2, how to create internal "components" using a language called Verilog, how to connect these components together in a board layout view, use the pin planner, create a basic timing file and finally download the resulting bitstream onto the development board. It's like a "hello world" example for FPGA's and this is why I highly recommend the de0-nano P0082 for newcomers to FPGA development.
For a detailed look at how to develop a simple project for this development board, check out the following link where I work through the example project and describe it in detail: entering-the-world-of-fpgas-with-a-deo-nano-p0082-part-3
After following this example I was confident I understood the development process and was able to go on and modify the project, expanding on what I'd learned and create a new component for myself.
The main user manual itself is extremely comprehensive but also easy to follow and look at, it contains useful information such as pin labels of the FPGA and whereabouts they are linked to on the headers of the board.
A more advanced example is also presented to work through which guides you through the steps of creating a Nios2 processor within the FPGA that can then be programmed using C language. Awesome!!
I also want to mention that the demonstration bitstreams that come with the system cd also include the source files so makes great reference material.
I'm not going to go into technical details or how this development board compares to others from a performance standpoint because that's not what this review is about. Instead its been a look at whether somebody who has never used an FPGA can pick up this development kit and create a project that works, and this is certainly something the de0-nano P0082 can provide. In just a few hours, I was capable of understanding the design process and also able to create and modify elements of that process to work to my needs.
This is a development kit that gives a much needed and guided introduction to creating FPGA based solutions for your project ideas. As time moves on, more and more technology is being used by the home creator as that technology becomes easier to use and enabling them to create more advanced projects for themselves, I've no doubt that we'll be seeing lots of things containing FPGA's in the future so why not start with one that teaches you how to use them!
For me, this product scored full marks for all categories that were asked for and most of which has been covered in the review. The only thing I haven't covered in the scoring but which also I gave full points for was the price to performance ratio, I'm not an expert on FPGA development boards and can't really compare this one to other devices on the market to accurately answer this question but the example project uses very few of the resources meaning that I'm confident that it's capable of a whole lot more, the board itself is made to a high standard and to have something that includes materials that can teach a new development skill in such a short time then the price doesn't really seem that high at all!
As I was working towards this review, I made several blog posts. These can all be found here:
I also recommend reading through the comments from other users at the bottom of those blog posts as they give valuable insight from people who are familiar with FPGA's
It was my original plan to use this development board to act as a display controller for an LED matrix display, a fault with the display has prevented me from following on with that project but I do have another one in mind which I hope to start soon as I can't wait to use this development board again in the future! Keep an eye on the FPGA group here on Element14 for future updates