FPGA Bootcamp Hack Chat

Join Al Williams, the guy behind's FPGA bootcamps, to ask FPGA questions and pitch what you want to see next on the bootcamp!

Friday, October 12, 2018 12:00 pm PDT - Friday, October 12, 2018 12:30 pm PDT Local time zone:
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Al Williams will be hosting the Hack Chat on Friday, October 12th, 2018 at noon PDT. 

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Al Williams is Hackaday's resident FPGA hacker. An electrical engineer, Al's the author of over 30 books and countless magazine articles and blog posts. He's also the guy behind's FPGA bootcamps. Al's been a ham radio operator for 41 years and while his first computer used an 1802 chip, he's also developed his own CPUs using -- what else? -- FPGAs. When Al's not developing some kind of hardware or software he's likely to be riding his motorcycle, flying a drone, or cooking something with a kitchen gadget.

This summer,'s FPGA bootcamps launched. The guy behind them, Al Williams, wants YOUR help. Join him on Friday's Hackchat and let us know what topics you'd like to see next. Along the way, if you have questions about the bootcamps or general FPGA questions, this is a great chance to discuss them with Al and others who are following the bootcamps. Al will also talk about some of his FPGA tools you've either seen on Hackaday or will see soon, like the embedded logic analyzer, his IceStorm workflow, and much more.

In this chat we will talk about:
 - How to use the FPGA tutorials
 - What other FPGAs you can use the tutorials for and how
 - What bootcamp topics (FPGA or otherwise) you would like to see next

  • FPGA Bootcamp Transcript PT II

    Lutetium10/13/2018 at 04:14 0 comments

    Frank Buss12:28 PM
    yeah, 6 weeks is very short

    Antti Lukats12:28 PM
    the RULES are bullshit, I can say it here..

    Al Williams12:28 PM
    I haven't looked at them lately but I will

    Antti Lukats12:28 PM
    how many days would you need to figure out WHAT is needed to qualify?

    Al Williams12:29 PM
    So @MagicWolfi does that help?

    Antti Lukats12:29 PM
    I have spent 2 full days, I am halfway there to know what I should do.. the rules are not strict enough

    Frank Buss12:29 PM
    I think I can still do it, with my idea :-)

    Al Williams12:29 PM
    @Stephen Tranovich who's next?

    Stephen Tranovich12:30 PM
    @Antti Lukats we're in the middle of a Hack Chat right now. Could you continue your conversation in half an hour?

    Stephen Tranovich12:30 PM
    @Al Williams before we hop into the next question, would you like to ask the group another question of yours?

    Antti Lukats12:30 PM
    this is FPGA.. !!!

    Antti Lukats12:30 PM
    yes I go off, thank you for the nice word, I will not forget.

    Antti Lukats12:30 PM

    Frank Buss12:30 PM

    Al Williams12:30 PM
    Hey @Antti Lukats let me get through some more questions and we'll open up to that towards the end while folks are still here

    Al Williams12:31 PM
    Ok, so my question back to everyone is if we were to do more FPGA-specific bootcamps are you happy with them being ice40 or would you rather see MAX10 or Xilinx or ??? -- whath are you guys using most of?

    Louis joined  the room.12:32 PM

    Piotr Esden-Tempski12:32 PM
    Yes I am fine with iCE40, but I am biased. ;)

    Audi McAvoy12:32 PM
    Spartan 6 is my go to part.

    Al Williams12:32 PM
    Keeping in mind that most of the bootcamps are agnostic. So I've thoughth about doing a 3A where we deploy the same code to say MAX1000

    Christoph12:32 PM
    I guess ice40 is a good start, and people can progress from there

    Frank Buss12:32 PM
    I don't care, but the boot camp is a good idea. Will there be more advanced stuff discussed like meta stability etc. as well?

    Al Williams12:32 PM
    The nice thing is ice40 is so cheap

    Parker12:32 PM
    I currently use Altera products but because of the bootcamps I have started learning ice40

    Parker12:32 PM
    so I vote keeping it

    Al Williams12:32 PM
    so buy a $20 board and 90% of what you learn will transfer over to Altera/Xilinx etc.

    Al Williams12:32 PM
    Like I say the Upduino is even cheaper

    Piotr Esden-Tempski12:33 PM
    I think fundamental is the ease of access. So iCE40 and soon ECP5 is the way to go. Definitely not Altera. Maybe Xilinx 7 series eventually.

    Al Williams12:33 PM
    and mostly works the same. Has a few more features. Needs a slightly different build script

    Boian Mitov12:33 PM
    What is the Upduino price?

    Antti Lukats12:33 PM
    altera is fine too.

    Al Williams12:33 PM
    The only reason I keep looking at MAX10 is that a) Arrow has that cheap board (not really Arrow but they sell it) and b) the Arduino Vidor uses it

    Kevin12:33 PM
    @Al Williams The camps would be more directly relevant to me if they were for Spartan 3 or 6. It really depends on whether the example code is using something specific to the ice device.

    Al Williams12:33 PM
    The Upduino 2 is like $13 or $14. Don't get the version 1

    Al Williams12:34 PM
    Well like I say Kevin, all but #3 (right now) are FPGA agnostic

    Antti Lukats12:34 PM
    max1000 is my design, not much to be proud of but relativly cheap :)

    Thomas Shaddack12:34 PM
    how much is the postage for the upduino for those of us stuck in Europistan?

    Bonki12:35 PM
    @Al Williams could you talk about your experience with SoC FPGAs? Currently I am starting to play around with the Cyclone V SoC on a DE10-Nano board.

    Al Williams12:35 PM
    All simulation and you move from there. I love love love EDA Playground for that because you are ready to go with zero software. But I also support Icarus/gtkwave and I have been using cvc too

    Al Williams12:35 PM

    Read more »

  • FPGA Bootcamp Transcript

    Stephen Tranovich10/12/2018 at 20:09 0 comments

    Stephen Tranovich12:04 PM
    Okay, let's get started! A BIG welcome to @Al Williams for coming on the Hack Chat to talk FPGA with us!

    Al Williams12:04 PM
    Thanks Stephen and thanks everyone for jointing

    Al Williams12:04 PM
    joining rather

    Stephen Tranovich12:05 PM
    @Al Williams , kick us off by telling us a little about yourself!

    Al Williams12:05 PM
    Well most of you probably read some of my stuff on Hackaday but I've been doing electronics for the majority of my life -- ever since I was a kid. I had a ham radio license in 1977....

    Boian Mitov12:05 PM
    Hi @Al Williams and @Stephen Tranovich :-)

    Al Williams12:05 PM
    And when I went to school there were no FPGAs

    Al Williams12:06 PM
    So later when I got interested I tried really hard to learn about them and there were 2 or 3 things I just couldn't get. So I finally broke down and took one of the freebie seminars from Altera

    Al Williams12:06 PM
    If I could have just asked the guy those 3 things it would have taken 15 minutes

    Al Williams12:06 PM
    But I had to take the whole class ;-)

    Al Williams12:07 PM
    So since then I've really looked for ways to bring more people into FPGAs and make them more accessible. The costs have come down both of the parts and the tools

    Al Williams12:07 PM
    most of the tools are free and we have Open Source for at least one FPGA family now

    Al Williams12:07 PM
    The bootcamps are one way I wanted to try to make things easier for people to climb that learning curve

    Stephen Tranovich12:08 PM
    That's awesome. And they sure are helping.

    Al Williams12:08 PM
    FPGAs aren't for everything, of course. Neither is an AVR processor or a 555 chip. But it is a great trick to have in your toolbag and when you do need it almost nothing else will do short of building huge racks of logic circuits

    Stephen Tranovich12:08 PM
    And this is everyone's chance to ask you their own 3 questions!

    Al Williams12:08 PM
    So before we start...

    Al Williams12:08 PM
    If you know me, you know I’m always a little different. This is going to be a unique Hackchat because I’m going to flip it around. Sure, I’ll take questions, but I’m very interested in asking you questions. For example:

    Have you tried the FPGA bootcamps? Why or why not?

    What FPGAs would you like to see us cover? (Currently, only ice40)

    What topics would you like to see in the future? More FPGA topics? Other topics?

    If you haven’t heard, we released bootcamp #4 today which is all about developing state machines in Verilog. This is another one where you don’t really need the hardware to follow along -- you can do everything in your browser or an offline Verilog simulator like Icarus.

    The next two will build on the state machine premise and we’ll build a serial to PWM “chip” that you could actually use (probably with the ice40 again, but maybe also with the MAX10, or other FPGAs depending on your feedback).

    So… who’s taken any of the bootcamps?

    Al Williams12:09 PM
    Well while you are thinking... I see @Thomas Shaddack has a question about command line tools

    Stephen Tranovich12:09 PM
    Sure, here's @Thomas Shaddack 's question: Are there some commandline tools for FPGAs? Something that would not require a heavyweight multigigabyte GUI monstrosity just to compile a verilog or vhdl source, and could be run from a console?

    Al Williams12:09 PM
    That's one thing I like about the open source tools is they are command line and that's it! However, there's a secret about the tools

    Stephen Tranovich12:10 PM
    Tell us the secret!

    Al Williams12:10 PM
    All the vendor tools are GUI shells over a bunch of command line programs, TCL scripts, and Perl scripts

    Adrian12:10 PM
    only found out about the bootcamps today... as a result of the email to join this chat, but will get stuck in as they have always interested me

    Al Williams12:10 PM
    So for example if you...

    Read more »

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Christoph wrote 10/12/2018 at 19:54 point

What would you do on #DIPSY ?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Boian Mitov wrote 10/12/2018 at 19:45 point

Is there a good FPGA simulator software that you would recommend, if someone just wants to learn Verilog/VHDL without having a physical FPGA

  Are you sure? yes | no

Boian Mitov wrote 10/12/2018 at 19:44 point

What is the main challenge when porting code from one FPGA vendor to another? What are the typical changes/pitfalls to look for?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Piotr Esden-Tempski wrote 10/12/2018 at 19:30 point

Do you have experience with formal verification? Have you used the Yosys formal verification capabilities yet?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Piotr Esden-Tempski wrote 10/12/2018 at 19:28 point

What do you think about generator toolkits like migen or Chisel.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Eric Sherk wrote 10/12/2018 at 19:23 point

Can you talk about design verification both pre- and post- FPGA implementation?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Boian Mitov wrote 10/12/2018 at 19:15 point

Which one you prefer for programming the FPGAs. VHDL or Verilog. Why?

  Are you sure? yes | no

MagicWolfi wrote 10/12/2018 at 19:09 point

What standard bus structure would be recommended to connect modules for routing data between them. Any differences for continuous data streams vs. blocks of data at random times?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Christoph wrote 10/12/2018 at 19:00 point

Where could I look for open source "hardware snippets" of decent quality, like an SPI?

I'd like to create a frame buffer that receives a packed monochrome frame (1 bit per pixel) via SPI and outputs a 16-bit per pixel (fixed color) frame to an SPI display.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Thomas Shaddack wrote 10/12/2018 at 18:56 point

Are there some commandline tools for FPGAs? Something that would not require a heavyweight multigigabyte GUI monstrosity just to compile a verilog or vhdl source, and could be run from a console?

  Are you sure? yes | no

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