• DIY breadboard push button

    04/26/2019 at 20:50 0 comments

    Most buttons can't be used with a breadboard because the pins are too short. For example these nice button I bought for $0.12 each. But you need only some pin headers to fix this:

    First plug in the pin headers in a breadboard:

    Then clip the button on the pin headers. You might need to bend the pins of the button a bit so that it is a tight fit and the pins of the button are at the outer side of the pin headers on each side, so that it doesn't fall off when you solder it:

    Then solder it, done:

    You can buy a professional PCB for it now in my Tindie shop as well:


  • Programming an iCE40HX4K with an Arduino and Python

    04/19/2019 at 13:05 0 comments

    You can program an iCE40 FPGA with a microcontroller, for example an Arduino with 3.3V IO. I tested it with a SparkFun SAMD21 Mini Breakout and a custom board. This is the setup:

    I have an additional flash and SRAM on my board, but you don't need this for a minimal test setup. This is the minimal circuit diagram how to use the FPGA (click on the image to zoom in) :

    With the iCEcube2 IDE I wrote this test program:

    library IEEE;
    use IEEE.STD_LOGIC_1164.all;
    use IEEE.numeric_std.all;
    entity top is
    	port (
    		clk : in STD_LOGIC;
    		led : out STD_LOGIC
    end top;
    architecture Behavioral of top is
    	signal blinker : natural range 0 to 25000000;
    	signal blink : std_logic;
    	process (clk)
    		if rising_edge(clk) then
    			blinker <= blinker + 1;
    			if blinker = 4000000 then
    				blinker <= 0;
    				blink <= not blink;
    			end if;
    			led <= blink;
    		end if;
    	end process; 
    end Behavioral;

    When I compile it, I get the file "test_Implmnt/sbt/outputs/bitmap/top_bitmap.bin".

    It is easy to configure the FPGA: First set the CRESET_B pin to low to reset the FPGA. Then hold down the SS pin and set CRESET_B to high, which starts the SPI slave configuration mode. You can then send the bin file data with the SDI and SCK pins.

    On the Arduino side I wrote this script for the transfer:

    #include <SPI.h>
    #define RESET_PIN 10
    #define ACK 6
    #define NAK 21
    const int BUF_SIZE = 128;
    uint8_t buffer[BUF_SIZE];
    void setup() {
      pinMode(RESET_PIN, OUTPUT);
      SPI.beginTransaction(SPISettings(1000000, MSBFIRST, SPI_MODE0));
    void readBlock() {
      // wait for block start
      unsigned long t0 = millis();
      while (true) {
        if (SerialUSB.available()) {
        unsigned long t1 = millis();
        if (t1 - t0 > 1000) {
          // timeout
      // read data
      int received = SerialUSB.readBytes((char*) buffer, BUF_SIZE);
      if (received != BUF_SIZE) {
        // timeout
      // send with SPI
      SPI.transfer(buffer, BUF_SIZE);
      // acknowledge
    void loop() {
      // read command
      char cmd;
      while (true) {
        if (SerialUSB.available()) {
          cmd = SerialUSB.read();
      // execute command
      switch (cmd) {
        case 'r':
          // reset
          digitalWrite(RESET_PIN, LOW);
          digitalWrite(RESET_PIN, HIGH);
        case 'b':

    And then I could upload the bin file with this Python script: 

    import serial
    ACK = 6
    NAK = 21
    ser = serial.Serial('/dev/ttyACM0', 115200, timeout=1)
    # read and evaluate response
    def readResponse():
        d = ser.read(1)
        if len(d) == 0:
            raise Exception('response timeout')
        if d[0] == ACK:
        if d[0] == NAK:
            raise Exception('NAK received')
        raise Exception('unkown response')
    # send a command    
    def sendCommand(cmd):
    # send a block
    def sendBlock(data):
        for d in data:
    # read file and add some bytes at the end for the required 49 clocks for configuration
    inputFile = open('top_bitmap.bin', 'rb')
    bufSize = 128
    data = bytearray(inputFile.read()) + bytearray([0] * (bufSize * 2))
    # reset FPGA
    # send data to FPGA
    while len(data) > bufSize:
        block = data[:bufSize]
        data = data[bufSize:]

    At the end of the upload the CDONE pin goes low, if there was no error. I added an LED to it which goes off when it is done.

    The other LED on pin 143  blinked with 1 Hz after the configuration, as programmed in the VHDL file.

  • voltage level translators

    04/13/2019 at 13:11 0 comments

    5 V to 3.3 V

    Test circuit with a SN74AHC125N, bought here, for the 5 V to 3.3 V level translation:

    Signal generator: Siglent SDG1050, 50 MHz max output frequency

    Oscilloscope: Agilent DSO-X 3012A, 100 MHz analog bandwith, 4 GSa/s samplerate

    Test setup:

    Result for 10 MHz:

    Less than 10 ns propagation delay, fast edges.

    3.3 V to 5 V

    Result for a SN74AHCT125N, bought here, same circuit and test setup, but with 5 V supply for the buffer and 3.3 V for the signal generator, to test the 3.3 V to 5 V level translation:

    A little bit slower, but still less than 10 ns propagation time and fast edges. The datasheet guarantees high level signal detection down to 3 V, but it works even with 2 V:

    Test with a CD74HC04E hex inverter

    Test circuit with a CD74HC04E, bought here:

    Doesn't work with 2 V for the input signal and gate propagation time is longer than 10 ns. With 3.3 V at the input and 5 V for the supply it looks like this:

    Fully working example with FRAM

    This is an example with the SN74AHC125N and SN74AHCT125N, and an ATmega328 and a FRAM chip. The ATmega328 is running a 5 V, and the memory with SPI port at 3.3 V. Test setup:

    The SPI bus is running at the max possible frequency of 10 MHz. Yellow is the clock signal from the microcontroller and green the MISO signal from the memory, measured at the microcontroller input:

    The combined delay of the memory IC and the gate delays of the voltage translators is less than 20 ns, good enough that the microcontroller can cleanly sample the MISO signal at rising clock edge.