Getting into FPGAs

minized20reset20corner20viewSo, I obviously decided that my world wasn’t already filled with enough random stuff. I decided that it would be a good idea to get my head around FPGAs. I’m sure many of you know what FPGAs are but just in case you don’t I’ll give you a quick summary. A Field Programmable Gate Array is user defined hardware. If you decide that you need some logic (e.g. an AND gate) you could use a discrete logic gate – hello 74LS08. You could of course use a microcontroller which might even be cheaper than the logic gate. Weird, but it’s starting to be true.

The other way is to have a big ball of programmable logic that you can configure however you want. Powerful, flexible, fast. Bizarrely, you can even program enough logic to create an processor. Yes, you can create (via software) some hardware that will run software. This is just a taste of how strange the world of FPGAs can get.

I asked a few questions about the easiest way in and got loads of different answers. Anyway, someone was kind enough to send me an Arty S7 FPGA board that he’d finished with. There is a course going on at Element 14 all about programming FPGA SoCs – that’s a chip with a microprocessor and some FPGA in one. So I bought a MiniZed.

I’ve only just started, but already it’s quite a trip. An FPGA is usually programmed in either VHDL or Verilog. They’re both languages that look a bit like a programming language but really aren’t. I’ve heard the learning curve described as “the cliff of insanity” and I’m starting to know how that feels. Anyway, the journey so far is strange but I’m enjoying it. I never did ask if you start at the bottom of the cliff and climb it or if you start at the top and fall off.

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Rohde & Schwarz RTM3004 review

I finally finished my review and road test of the Rohde & Schwarz RTM3004 oscilloscope. For those that don’t know, that’s a very high-end 1GHz oscilloscope. It’s a mixed signal oscilloscope (4 analog and 16 digital channels). It’s also got a built-in function and pattern generator. There’s also some really nice FFT and Spectrum Analysis functionality. It’s got a great 10″ touch screen.

RM3K with Keysight and RigolBasically it’s amazing compared to the Keysight DSOX1102G and Rigol DS1074Z that I’ve been used to. There’s nothing wrong with these two ‘scopes of course. It’s just that if they’re a nice family car, then I feel I’ve just been asked to drive around in a Ferrari for a month and write about it. Oh yeah – and you can keep the Ferrari when you’re done. As you can imagine, I’m quite happy about it.

I won’t reproduce the full road test here on the blog. If you’re interested in reading all about it then you can head over to Element14. If you’re after a video summary of the features then here you go.

Working on a oscilloscope review

You know how it can be sometimes. You’re working on one project, then it gets bumped by another. Sometimes that one gets bumped by a higher priority one. Your life is like a nested interrupt handler.

My latest project is moving my MSP430-based NFC reader over to the CC1310. It’s been competing with converting a garage into the noisy, smelly power tools and CNC side of my workshop setup.

img_20180603_112827638539278.jpgI’m very pleased to tell you than something more urgent had come up that has stalled these two. Rohde & Schwarz have asked me (via Element14) to road test one of their latest oscilloscopes – the incredible RTM3004. Even better, I get to keep it afterwards. This is a high end 1GHz 4 channel ‘scope with a 16 channel logic analyser, signal and pattern generator, spectrum analyser and loads of other features.

As you can imagine I feel obliged to put a reasonable amount of effort into this, although to do it in a fair and unbiased way. I’ve already started but I expect to spend at least another month of my free time on it. Stay tuned for the results which will appear on full over on Element14 but have a summary and link here too.