Archive | February 2016

Installing Vivado Design Suite

My ARTY board came as an evaluation kit including a single-user node and board-locked version of the Xilinx Vivado Design Suite license. Vivado is relatively easy to install, but time consuming, depending on your Internet connection. If you haven’t done so already, you will be prompted to create an account at the Xilinx website. Your email will be verified before you can progress, and once you log in and choose to download a product, you will be asked to provide your name and address, job classification and so on. At this point you can also opt-in to fine-grained device, software, or marketing communications.

Navigating to the Xilinx download page, select a version that is appropriate for your operating system. I originally planned to use a Linux server, but at the last minute, I chose to use a Windows 7 laptop install because I was traveling, and the laptop has the longest battery life and most physical ports. This decision is not taken lightly as the license cannot be moved between boards or computers. I’m really hoping this old laptop doesn’t fall apart before I’m up and running with my ARTY project. The good news is that the license includes one year of support and updates.

First you are going to download the Web Install Client. You will be offered the option of downloading the entire product, or selecting a subset for your minimal needs. While downloading everything is time intensive, downloading too little, then having to return to hunt something else down probably takes even longer.  I was asked about installing a driver, and I said yes.  I figure the installer knows more than I do about what I need, and in my experience, customer service is easier when you accepted all the defaults. You can choose to provide menu links to all users on the system, or just yourself. I always choose “all users” because each user will then have their own environment, and when I mangle mine, I can start fresh as another user. (I probably shouldn’t be admitting that I mangle environments, or need to develop a split-personality to solve my problems.)

If you download the entire product, you will run a local executable to install and configure a customized Vivado installation.  If you let the web client make your selections, you’ll be finished. To add a license, you’ll go through the login paherege and eventually select a host and mac address to bind the license to. Use the ipconfig /all command on Windows or ifconfig -a command on Linux to verify that you are not choosing a random VirtualBox, VMware (or whatever) mac address. The license software offered me my disconnected as well as cached mac addresses from usb wifi keys that I sometimes use. I was smart enough to avoid that pitfall. This time.

The license will now need to be downloaded and installed. After that, your Vivado Design Suite should fire up. This is when you take the time to make sure you have installed the correct driver for the board. Your ARTY board files are here. Your install instructions for them are here. Have a cuppa Joe while you read through the Arty forum at the Avnet Technical Community.

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Reading the Reference Manual

I’ve always been a strong believer in RTFM. With a shiny new board, there are a few things to learn before jumping in.  Like jumper settings! Wouldn’t it be sad if your board didn’t power up and you gave up on the poor thing, when all you needed to do was change a jumper that tells it which kind of power input you want?

Or what if you just plug it in, and your computer starts downloading drivers. Ooops!  That’s not the driver I wanted! These lights won’t stop blinking. Then you spend the next two days trying to find and get rid of the drivers.  Along the way, you delete the driver for your wifi dongle — the one the IT lady put on for you. Now it’s Friday, and there’s no Internet until Monday, and no way to download those drivers for your board. Not saying I did that this time, and I won’t because I’ve learned to read the ARTY reference manual!

So far, the most interesting thing that I’ve read is that if you use full power on the LEDs your eyeballs, you stand a good chance of blinding yourself.

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Finally, I’m Going to Learn VHDL

About 25 years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to learn how to program in VHDL. I bought a book, and the book sat on my shelf for about 20 years.  Then I threw the book away because things change, and 20 year old books do not. But in the back of my mind, the tick-tick-tick went on. VHDL. I’m going to learn that someday. Thanks to Mike Field, I am finally on my way.

Mike offers a free book on learning the Spartan 3E FPGA and VHDL here. It’s an outstanding piece of work, but he felt it was a little outdated and didn’t address new features in the FPGAs from Xilinx. One happy day on Twitter, he solicited some volunteers to work through a new version of a tutorial with him. After visiting his wiki and finding all sorts of useful information, I volunteered to be one of his guinea pigs — because if I can learn to make lights blink, anyone can.

Digilient creates high quality boards featuring Xilinx FPGAs and supporting technologies such as memory, controllers, and peripherals. A chief focus is on ease of use, combined with partnering to provide education and training solutions. We will be using the Digilent ARTY board for our project because it serves as an ideal platform for learning the  Vivado Design Suite. Vivado replaces the ISE Design Suite, which is gradually being phased out.

The ARTY sports an Artix®-7 35T FPGA partnered with a Xilinx MicroBlaze™ Processor. It’s a powerful entry level board for hobbyists and makers. Diclaimer: Digilent was kind enough to provide us with the boards.

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