The Lab Rat: FPGA Kit Goes All Out

The NanoBoard 3000XN used for this review included a Xilinx
Spartan-3AN FPGA (XC3S1400AN-4FGG676C). Altium also offers a NanoBoard 3000AL
with an Altera Cyclone III FPGA and a NanoBoard 3000LC with a Lattice ECP2
device. Each board gives users memory, and a wide range of devices that include
serial, Ethernet, USB, MIDI, RS232 and RS485 ports, ADCs and DACs, relays, an
LCD with touch screen, keyboard and mouse interfaces, and speakers. The plastic
end pieces provide a rigid frame that stabilizes the board on a table.

The Altium Designer suite of tools comes with the kit and they
took about 20 minutes to install. During installation you will get a license
that goes with the board, so to use the Altium Designer software, you must have
your NB3000 connected to your host PC. The Altium tools will function for 12
months, but users can buy a full perpetual license at any time. I had the Xilinx ISE 9.1i software and
libraries already on my PC, so I did not download any Xilinx software.

Altium has done an excellent job with the NB 3000, its Designer
software, and online documentation, examples, videos, and other information. I
recommend it highly to engineers interested in or already involved with
FPGA-based designs. I could spend an entire summer vacation experimenting with
this board and the Altium tools. The NanoBoard 3000 was fun to work with.

FPGA Kit Goes All Out
Click here for a larger version

The old Dell Win XP PC in my lab did not meet the minimum system
requirements for the Altium Designer software. But it worked well enough,
although some tasks would take less time on a newer computer.

A Difficult Climb to Start

I got off to a rocky start because I couldn't locate the NB3000
documentation or projects and started with a "Getting Started
Tutorial" for an earlier NanoBoard. Good NB3000 information exists, as
I'll explain later.

The sample project I used creates a shift-register that lights
the board's eight LEDs one at a time and then turns them off in the same
sequence. The schematic-level design
capability and ready-built functional blocks simplified the layout of the
circuit without the need for C, VHDL, or Verilog code, although you can use
those languages, if you choose. I followed the "old" instructions and
got through to the compilation step in about 30 minutes. But when I compiled
the circuit, I got an error message, "An invalid target package 'fgg676'
was given in the '-p' option value. Please consult the Xilinx Programmable
Logic Data Book to find a legal target package."

That didn't sound good because the data book runs to over 450
pages and the error message didn't offer any clues about how to correct my
design. To make a long story short: I downloaded and installed the latest
Xilinx ISE tools, version 11.4.

At this point, though, the Altium Designer displayed,
"Xilinx ISE could not be found," which gave no clue about how to
solve the problem. After several lengthy
clean-outs and re-installations of the Altium Designer and Xilinx ISE 11.4
software I recreated the simple

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