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Monday 19 January 2009

Yet another new Actel toy \o/

As you may know, YASEP16 will probably be used in my girlfriend's "pet projet" Ours Agile. This involves lots of real-time computations, countless sensors and more than 30 actuators... Sure, YASEP could handle that, probably. But the interfacing was giving me headaches, so many analog components (on top of high-speed memory) seems expensive and/or difficult.

Then I spotted a second-hand AFS600 evaluation kit from Actel, that I got for a fair price. It was a bit risky and I first thought it was broken. But since it's 2nd hand, somebody has probably played with it, and just uploaded a new configuration bitstream. With the help of a french rep., I found and uploaded the original demo bitstream and ... Magic happens !

Actel AFS600 eval board plugged

This FPGA family comes at "premium price" but it's a damn great opportunity for robotics projects :

  • 512KB of program space as Flash EEPROM (no need to download from external SPI !)
  • onchip 100MHz RC clock generator (exactly what I'm aiming at !)
  • RTC, temperature sensors, low power...
  • high-speed 30-channel ADC !
  • several integrated MOSFET gate drivers
  • 13K tiles vs 6K on the A3P250
  • 24 SRAM blocks vs 8 on the A3P250

This is definitely a great toy for robots...

Thursday 11 December 2008

The new Colibri board is almost here !

I just received ACME System's invoice for some of their new Actel-based boards. So I went to their website and remark that it is updated : ACME Colibri board

It is lighter, better and slimmer than the FoxVHDL board, as it seems that the VGA output was rarely used. The optional composite encoder seems to have been even less used, and it used some space. So the Colibri should be a bit cheaper too :-)

I don't know when I'll get mine, but I ordered botht the A3P250 and A3P1000 version.

Monday 22 September 2008

A suitable HW platform for CPU design ?

My order to Lextronic.fr is delivered : I purchased a couple of "FOX VHDL" boards from http://www.lextronic.notebleue.com/P1792-platine-dextension-fox-vhdl.html

The FoxVHDL board (image courtesy of Acme Systems, Italia)

This small board has all I need, and only that, for YASEP : a A3P250 FPGA, and a couple of 256Kx16 SRAM at 12ns. More informations can be found at http://www.acmesystems.it/?id=120 and a new version of the board will appear soon ! (without the VGA connector that takes a lot of space) Even at 100 Euros each, with only 1MB of memory, this is an excellent board with a lot of potential !

Only problem : the SRAM has "only" 12ns of access time. YASEP is aimed at 100MHz. So either I run at 64MHz only (too bad) or I find 8ns versions of the SRAM chips. I've spent lots of effort in the 2nd option and it is not fruitful yet. The 12ns parts are so much easier to get !

I could try to play tricks with the pipeline gates (doing "wave pipelining" in the memory chip) but it's very risky. Well, it would be better to make my own board... with those crazy 200MHz synchronous SRAM chips that I also recently found. But that will come later : It's better to use the Fox VHDL boards first, write the VHDL code, and later only make a custom board.

In the mean time, I should get acustomed to the use of my new shiny hot air rework station. BGA chips are soon going to be solderable :-)