SDRAM Adapter Board Tested*

A project log for Anacon-xC

Analog video console based on XMOS xCore with VGA/NTSC/PAL video output and PS/2 mouse/keyboard input. 32-bit scanline-based rendering.

Kevin H. PattersonKevin H. Patterson 03/20/2017 at 16:331 Comment


Spent several hours testing the SDRAM adapter board. Haven't had a chance to play with the I2S stereo DAC yet.

I did get the SDRAM to work with my XCORE-200 explorerKIT. However, it's definitely erratic. I'm able to write pseudorandom values to the entire 32 MB, and read them back successfully, but not 100% of the time, more like 90% of the time. My suspicion is that using a rats nest of jumper wires to a breadboard is not adequate with respect to the signal integrity required. But the library works, and I'm satisfied I know how to interface an SDRAM IC to the xCore.

Here are my thoughts on the "reliability" issues. Please note that I'm not complaining about XMOS :). I realize the pictured setup is a completely hacked-up arrangement that is probably way out of spec, and it's probably a miracle I got it to work at all. :P The following thoughts are here just for anyone who is curious or might have some ideas of their own to share.

Possible problems:

  1. Maybe there's a subtle timing or setup compatibility issue with the Micron SDRAM (I'm using part number MT48LC16M16A2TG-6A:G) See here. I don't have any ISSI parts, but I may order one and try it on another copy of the adapter board.
  2. As a result of reading the above thread, I ended up using the lib_sdram master branch from this git repo. It seems to be the most up-to-date. (I had trouble with the lib_sdram installed by xTIMEcomposer, but perhaps I gave up too soon?)
  3. I may have insufficient ground connections between the SDRAM adapter board and the explorerKIT. I need to populate the rest of the Tile I/O ground pads on the explorerKIT...
  4. All Vss connections on the adapter board are tied to a common ground plane, and all Vdd connections are tied to a common 3v3 rail. The SDRAM is decoupled by two 0.1µF and two 1µF MLCC X7R caps on the adapter board. Maybe this is not enough.
  5. Noise picked up by the jumper wires, or signal issues caused by inductance, excess capacitance, lack of impedance control on these lines, or the breadboard stubs. I need to check this on my scope. Perhaps I have bad skew, reflections, ringing, and/or overshoot...
  6. I don't have an ultra-fast NOR gate handy, so I'm using a 74AHC02. It's rated about 6ns at 3v3, compared to the 2ns of the 74LVC02 part recommended by XMOS, so about 1/3 the speed. This alone could be the source of all my problems, but I would think it would become irrelevant at slower clock dividers... But I'll order an LVC part and try.

Oddly enough, I get pretty good results at certain clock dividers. I can run the pictured setup at div=8 (31.5 MHz), but no faster. HOWEVER, going slower (div=9, 10, etc.) doesn't seem to help! I even tried running at div=20 and 25, but everything slower is about 10-20% "reliable", compared to about 90% at div=8. I tried changing CAS to various numbers, no help. 2 works best at div=8, and 3 is marginally better at slower clocks... I also messed with "#define N (1)" in io.S, but changing it to 0 makes things almost totally unusable, even at very slow clocks (div=20, etc.).

Perhaps the most nagging issue is that I feel like I should be able to get this to work reliably at a slower speed (say 5 or 10 MHz). Perhaps there are some tweaks that I need to make to the library that I'm not aware of?

So, barring some miraculous insight that I'm yet to have, I'll probably end up designing a new (4-layer) board that incorporates both the SDRAM IC and an XMOS mcu on the same board, with impedance controlled traces, etc. Definitely a learning experience.


Eric Hertz wrote 03/20/2017 at 22:05 point

Howdy! Haven't read the details too thoroughly, yet... but you might try using a shielded-cable for the sdram-clock... The other signals aren't so important, since they all change *opposite* the clock, but when they all change it can be coupled into the clock-line, unless it's shielded. I've had good luck with the cables that lead to internal wifi antennas, also some higher-quality between-board video cables from VCRs.

  Are you sure? yes | no