11 November 2020

Building iCE40 FPGA Toolchain on Linux

Since I tested FPGA development tools on Ubuntu 20.04, there have been requests for more posts on FPGA tooling. In this post, I provide a quick guide to building an open-source FPGA toolchain for iCE40 boards, such as iCEBreaker. I plan to cover ECP5 FPGAs in a future version. This guide is designed for Ubuntu or Pop!_OS 20.04, but should be straightforward to adjust to your own distro. These instructions will work on Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), but there’s no USB support in WSL, so you can’t program boards under WSL. Read more

4 November 2020

Hello Nexys - Part 1

This three-part tutorial provides a quick introduction to FPGA development with SystemVerilog and the Digilent Nexys Video board. No prior experience of FPGA development is required, but basic knowledge of programming concepts is assumed. If you can write a simple program in Arduino, Python, or JavaScript, then you shouldn’t have any trouble. This series is also available for the Arty A7. I find working with FPGAs gives me a sense of delight so often lacking in modern software development. Read more

30 October 2020

Framebuffers

Welcome back to Exploring FPGA Graphics. In the previous two parts, we worked with sprites, but as graphics become more complex, a different approach is needed. Instead of drawing directly to the screen, we draw to a framebuffer, which is read by the display controller. This post provides an introduction to framebuffers and how to scale and fade them Wolfenstein 3D style. In the next part, we’ll use a framebuffer to visualize a simulation of life. Read more

28 October 2020

Hardware Sprites

Welcome back to Exploring FPGA Graphics. In the previous part, we recreated Pong. In this part, we learn how to create colourful animated graphics with hardware sprites. Hardware sprites maintain much of the simplicity of our Pong design while offering much greater creative freedom. In the next part, we’ll create a demo that gives a taste of what’s possible with sprites. In this series, we explore graphics at the hardware level and get a feel for the power of FPGAs. Read more

22 September 2020

Life on Screen

Welcome back to Exploring FPGA Graphics. In this post we’re going to use the designs we created in Framebuffers to experiment with Conway’s Game of Life. In this series, we explore graphics at the hardware level and get a feel for the power of FPGAs. We start by learning how displays work, before racing the beam with Pong, starfields and sprites, simulating life with bitmaps, drawing lines and triangles, and finally creating simple 3D models. Read more

24 August 2020

FPGA Memory Types

Designing with FPGAs involves many types of memory, some familiar from other devices, but some that are specific to FPGAs. This post gives a quick overview of the different flavours, together with their strengths and weaknesses, and some sample designs. This guide includes external memory types, such as SRAM and HBM, that are used in CPUs and GPUs, so much of what is said here is generally applicable, but the focus is on FPGAs. Read more

30 July 2020

FPGA Pong

Welcome back to Exploring FPGA Graphics. In the previous part, we got an introduction to FPGA graphics; now we’re ready to put our graphical skills to work recreating the arcade classic: Pong. In this series, we explore graphics at the hardware level and get a feel for the power of FPGAs. We start by learning how displays work, before racing the beam with Pong, starfields and sprites, simulating life with bitmaps, drawing lines and triangles, and finally creating simple 3D models. Read more

1 July 2020

Division in Verilog

Division is a fundamental arithmetic operation; one we take for granted in most contexts. FPGAs are different; Verilog can’t synthesize division: we need to do it ourselves. In this FPGA recipe, we’re going to look at a simple division algorithm for positive integers and fixed-point numbers. This method takes one cycle per bit: 32 cycles for 32-bit numbers. Revised 2020-07-28. Feedback to @WillFlux is most welcome. Division Defined Before we get to the design, it helps be familiar with some terminology. Read more

26 June 2020

Video Timings: VGA, SVGA, 720p, 1080p

To work with standard monitors and TVs, you need to use the correct video timings. This recipe includes the timings for four standard display modes using analogue VGA, DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort: 640x480 (VGA), 800x600 (SVGA), 1280x720, and 1920x1080 all at 60 Hz. CRT monitors typically support higher refresh rates in addition to 60 Hz, such as 72 and 85 Hz, but most LCD monitors do not. There are an increasing number of televisions and monitors that do support high refresh rates, but these are beyond the scope of this guide. Read more

10 June 2020

FPGA Ad Astra

Welcome back to Exploring FPGA Graphics. In the previous part we learnt how to create hardware sprites. In this fourth part, we create a demo by combining our knowledge of sprites with animated starfields. In this series, we explore graphics at the hardware level and get a feel for the power of FPGAs. We start by learning how displays work, before racing the beam with Pong, starfields and sprites, simulating life with bitmaps, drawing lines and triangles, and finally creating simple 3D models. Read more

©2020 Will Green, Project F