Forums

Experience with Xilinx Microblaze kit?

Started by larwe February 23, 2006
I've been asked to write a couple of real-life up-and-running articles
about working with the Xilinx PPC/Microblaze kit (ML403 board)
consisting of a meaty FPGA with PowerPC 405 hard core. I'll have a
loaner kit with the option to buy.

Has anyone here worked with this kit? The documentation is a bit vague
about what exactly comes with the board, software-wise. Specifically:
They talk about "evaluation" versions of numerous cores such as UARTs,
Ethernet MACs, etc - what is "evaluation" about them? They also imply
that the synthesis software is not a full version.

Does the kit include enough host-side software for me to roll, say, an
ADC and a display controller in the FPGA (the included TFT-LCD
controller is probably not exactly what I want)? I'd like to be able to
build a simple digital spectrum analyzer and signal generator with this
board (audio bandwidth).

How easy is it to get the included Linux BSP running - is it plug and
play, or is there horror involved? I'd basically just want enough
services to get a framebuffer running and start my own process. I was
thinking of eCos, but if Linux is ready-rolled...

Any other comments/gotchas/advice to run screaming gratefully accepted.

"larwe" <zwsdotcom@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1140744444.082114.220840@p10g2000cwp.googlegroups.com...
> I've been asked to write a couple of real-life up-and-running articles > about working with the Xilinx PPC/Microblaze kit (ML403 board) > consisting of a meaty FPGA with PowerPC 405 hard core. I'll have a > loaner kit with the option to buy. > > Has anyone here worked with this kit? The documentation is a bit vague > about what exactly comes with the board, software-wise. Specifically: > They talk about "evaluation" versions of numerous cores such as UARTs, > Ethernet MACs, etc - what is "evaluation" about them? They also imply > that the synthesis software is not a full version.
Right..... so now you want us to write your articles.....? What is this today? Comedy night on c.a.e? :-) Meindert
Larwin,

> Has anyone here worked with this kit? The documentation is a bit vague > about what exactly comes with the board, software-wise. Specifically: > They talk about "evaluation" versions of numerous cores such as UARTs, > Ethernet MACs, etc - what is "evaluation" about them? They also imply > that the synthesis software is not a full version.
I have used the kit for the Microblaze not PPC. See here: www.freertos.org/portmicroblaze.html. Source code is available. I was always a little confused about licensing (see the notes on the link above). I guess that they are evaluation versions because you can use the IP in prototype, but need to purchase a license to use them in production, but as I say this is a guess. I only used the lite versions where this is not a problem. The first big hurdle to overcome is to understand exactly what host side software you need. There were lots of options with no particular reference to what you need to do exactly what. I was very confused as I recall.
> Does the kit include enough host-side software for me to roll, say, an > ADC and a display controller in the FPGA (the included TFT-LCD > controller is probably not exactly what I want)? I'd like to be able to > build a simple digital spectrum analyzer and signal generator with this > board (audio bandwidth).
Display controller no problem. Not sure about ADC's in FPGA (out of my knowledge area).
> How easy is it to get the included Linux BSP running - is it plug and > play, or is there horror involved? I'd basically just want enough > services to get a framebuffer running and start my own process. I was > thinking of eCos, but if Linux is ready-rolled... > > Any other comments/gotchas/advice to run screaming gratefully accepted.
One gotcha - be careful about what you rebuild. The first few times I changed a couple of lines of software my rebuild took 2.5 hours! Until I realised how to just build the software and not re-synth the entire device :-) Although my comments above seem negative this is just because I am highlighting my problems - which all really stem from a lack of experience in this field. I actually love this kit. It is very powerful and flexible. Although the learning curve is very steep the fact that I got my port up and running in about a week (not working on it full time) shows that it cannot be that complex after all once you get into it. Have fun. Regards, Richard. http://www.FreeRTOS.org
larwe <zwsdotcom@gmail.com> wrote:
> I've been asked to write a couple of real-life up-and-running articles > about working with the Xilinx PPC/Microblaze kit (ML403 board) > consisting of a meaty FPGA with PowerPC 405 hard core. I'll have a > loaner kit with the option to buy. > > Has anyone here worked with this kit? The documentation is a bit vague > about what exactly comes with the board, software-wise. Specifically: > They talk about "evaluation" versions of numerous cores such as UARTs, > Ethernet MACs, etc - what is "evaluation" about them? They also imply > that the synthesis software is not a full version. >
One of my engineers did a Microblaze port of our RTOS recently as far as trouble with toolchain, debugger and indeed soft-core were concerned the thing was up there past the 90th percentile - it was a pig of an environment to work on. For something that's such a simple core, running gcc and using gdb to debug, it seems that Murphy's Law applied, recursively. If it could go wrong, it did - and revealed even more faults. Very poor. Mind you, we started work on it early - I think we were doing a lot of the debugging of core and toolchain, and things do slowly seem to be improving. You'd think a simple core + GCC + GDB would be easy to get right... :( I cannot say we were impressed by the tools or the engineering that had gone into the core. Drop me a line off-group for some 'war stories'.
> > Any other comments/gotchas/advice to run screaming gratefully accepted.
See above. pete -- pete@fenelon.com [Support no2id.net: working to destroy Blair's ID card fraud]
larwe wrote:
> I've been asked to write a couple of real-life up-and-running articles > about working with the Xilinx PPC/Microblaze kit (ML403 board) > consisting of a meaty FPGA with PowerPC 405 hard core. I'll have a > loaner kit with the option to buy. >
What would make this far more interesting (but about 50% more work) would be a comparison of the Xilinx/Microblaze kit with the Altera Nios II kit, rather than Xilinx PPC (which addresses a slightly different market than the soft processors). And if you have the choice, go for the more mass-market FPGAs (Spartan / Cyclone II) - they are of interest to a wider audience, and will be much faster for you to work with (fitting and routing is faster on the smaller chips).
> Has anyone here worked with this kit? The documentation is a bit vague > about what exactly comes with the board, software-wise. Specifically: > They talk about "evaluation" versions of numerous cores such as UARTs, > Ethernet MACs, etc - what is "evaluation" about them? They also imply > that the synthesis software is not a full version. >
You'll have to talk to Xilinx people to get a clear answer here. From experience with Altera kits, the simple cores (like the UART, or SDRAM) are free, and big cores (like a MAC) cost significant money - often more than for the cpu core. Look at the opencores website, and have a shot at including things like the opencores ethernet MAC for comparison.
> Does the kit include enough host-side software for me to roll, say, an > ADC and a display controller in the FPGA (the included TFT-LCD > controller is probably not exactly what I want)? I'd like to be able to > build a simple digital spectrum analyzer and signal generator with this > board (audio bandwidth). > > How easy is it to get the included Linux BSP running - is it plug and > play, or is there horror involved? I'd basically just want enough > services to get a framebuffer running and start my own process. I was > thinking of eCos, but if Linux is ready-rolled... > > Any other comments/gotchas/advice to run screaming gratefully accepted. >
David Brown wrote:

> > consisting of a meaty FPGA with PowerPC 405 hard core. I'll have a > > loaner kit with the option to buy. > > > > What would make this far more interesting (but about 50% more work) > would be a comparison of the Xilinx/Microblaze kit with the Altera Nios > II kit, rather than Xilinx PPC (which addresses a slightly different
The large, well-known company that is paying for the articles has a certain bias towards PPC. The first rule of successful prostitution (~= contract writing) is that the customer's fetishes come first. Honestly, however, I feel the world doesn't need yet another proprietary core like Nios or Microblaze (or AVR32, Ulf) - I'd rather ride a big swathe of experience with a commonly used core. So I'm pretty happy with the idea of using the PPC core.
> You'll have to talk to Xilinx people to get a clear answer here. From
Right, unfortunately it took a week to get a satisfactory answer to the question "is all the hardware I need to get bits into the chip provided in the kit". I'm going through my editor on this, since the project idea was pushed originally from the Xilinx side, and I haven't received a direct support contact yet. (but the project is still in an infant state).
larwe wrote:
> David Brown wrote: > >>> consisting of a meaty FPGA with PowerPC 405 hard core. I'll have a >>> loaner kit with the option to buy. >>> >> What would make this far more interesting (but about 50% more work) >> would be a comparison of the Xilinx/Microblaze kit with the Altera Nios >> II kit, rather than Xilinx PPC (which addresses a slightly different > > The large, well-known company that is paying for the articles has a > certain bias towards PPC. The first rule of successful prostitution (~= > contract writing) is that the customer's fetishes come first. >
I didn't actually expect you would have the choice here - I just thought I'd say what I (and, I think, many others) would want to read, rather than what your customer wants you to write.
> Honestly, however, I feel the world doesn't need yet another > proprietary core like Nios or Microblaze (or AVR32, Ulf) - I'd rather > ride a big swathe of experience with a commonly used core. So I'm > pretty happy with the idea of using the PPC core. >
I'd agree that there isn't much need for yet another core in general, but the Nios II and Microblaze are not "in general". They are designed for implementation on an FPGA, and to be suitable for custom modification. They are much smaller and faster in an FPGA than a soft-core ARM would be, and probably several orders of magnitude smaller than a soft-core PPC would be. The bus (on the Nios II - I don't know about the Microblaze) is also much better suited to FPGA implementation than the ARM buses. So there is good reason for having these cores - they have very different strengths and weaknesses from hard cores. When you refer "proprietary" cores in the context of FPGAs, pretty much *every* serious processor core, except for the likes of the OpenRISC cores and a few small cores, are proprietary. (The SPARC architecture, IIRC, is not proprietary - but implementations of it are.) I can't freely implement an ARM or a PPC core in an FPGA - therefore the cores are proprietary.
>> You'll have to talk to Xilinx people to get a clear answer here. From > > Right, unfortunately it took a week to get a satisfactory answer to the > question "is all the hardware I need to get bits into the chip provided > in the kit". I'm going through my editor on this, since the project > idea was pushed originally from the Xilinx side, and I haven't received > a direct support contact yet. (but the project is still in an infant > state). >
"larwe" <zwsdotcom@gmail.com> wrote in message 
news:1140744444.082114.220840@p10g2000cwp.googlegroups.com...
> I've been asked to write a couple of real-life up-and-running articles > about working with the Xilinx PPC/Microblaze kit (ML403 board) > consisting of a meaty FPGA with PowerPC 405 hard core. I'll have a > loaner kit with the option to buy. > > Has anyone here worked with this kit? The documentation is a bit vague > about what exactly comes with the board, software-wise. Specifically: > They talk about "evaluation" versions of numerous cores such as UARTs, > Ethernet MACs, etc - what is "evaluation" about them? They also imply > that the synthesis software is not a full version. >
Yes. I'll echo the sentiments of others here. The tools SUCK. We have various projects that use V2Ps with both PPCs in use plus 5 Microblazes. It is possilbe, but be prepared for long days and nights and pleading with Xilinx for support. I found a couple of bugs (HW and SW) in their cores---not to mention the plethora of bugs in the build/compile/route EDK environment. This was at v6.3. They are now up to ver 8.x, but do no expect the tools to be much better. My experience is that newer versions mean some old bugs fixed, many new ones created. The 'eval' means that the cores have timers built into them that once you apply power to the design, after x number of hours, that core will cease to function--requiring another power cycle.This is for the UART I am certain. Other evals may be severely limited. The uart eval also is limited in this way---ie no flexible baud rate at run time. It only operates at the baud you specify when you compiled it.
> Does the kit include enough host-side software for me to roll, say, an > ADC and a display controller in the FPGA (the included TFT-LCD > controller is probably not exactly what I want)? I'd like to be able to > build a simple digital spectrum analyzer and signal generator with this > board (audio bandwidth). >
I think their ML310 eval kits and SW would support this.
> How easy is it to get the included Linux BSP running - is it plug and > play, or is there horror involved? I'd basically just want enough > services to get a framebuffer running and start my own process. I was > thinking of eCos, but if Linux is ready-rolled... >
Don't know on that. We used VxWorks--which was a headache unto itself. Hello VxWorks Support? We are using Xilinx SoC--- VXW: "Call Xilinx" Hello Xilinx Support? We are using VxWorks on EDK. Xilinx: "Call VxWorks".
> Any other comments/gotchas/advice to run screaming gratefully accepted.
FWIW some of our more experienced SoC guys told me that as bad as Xilinx was, Altera SoC was worse--but there mostly from the HW aspect, whereas Xilinx is worse from the SW build environment. Lotsa' Luck! Bo
Meindert Sprang wrote:

> > Has anyone here worked with this kit? The documentation is a bit vague > > Right..... so now you want us to write your articles.....?
You could always just send me a check and we'll let the articles write themselves. Seriously, however - I wanted to find out just how much of a nightmare this project could become. My trepidation trimpot is now hard over.
> What is this today? Comedy night on c.a.e? :-)
Maybe. I was going through the filing cabinet at a job, and found that the previous tenant had left behind a box of condoms. After talking to some other people in the same row, I reached the conclusion that he was moonlighting as a clown and needed to practice his balloon animal technique.
Bo wrote:

> Yes. I'll echo the sentiments of others here. The tools SUCK. We have > various projects that use V2Ps with both PPCs in use plus 5 Microblazes. It > is possilbe, but be prepared for long days and nights and pleading with > Xilinx for support. I found a couple of bugs (HW and SW) in their
Argh. I'm seeing a very common thread in all these responses :) I'd hope Xilinx will provide premier quality support here, since they are the ones trying to make these articles look favorable to their product line. If I can't get it working in the lab, I'm sure as hell not going to write "I couldn't get it working, but I'm sure if you commit to buying parts, Xilinx will make it all play nice for you".
> The 'eval' means that the cores have timers built into them that once you > apply power to the design, after x number of hours, that core will cease to > function--requiring another power cycle.This is for the UART I am certain.
Hmm. The timer isn't a serious limitation for my application, but it does lean me towards opencores. I guess I have to wait until I get the stuff in hand so I can start to experiment. The sales literature leaves many questions unanswered.
> > Does the kit include enough host-side software for me to roll, say, an > > ADC and a display controller in the FPGA (the included TFT-LCD > > > > I think their ML310 eval kits and SW would support this.
Worst case I could use the AC97 codec interface they provide, I guess.
> Hello VxWorks Support? We are using Xilinx SoC---
:))))
> FWIW some of our more experienced SoC guys told me that as bad as Xilinx > was, Altera SoC was worse--but there mostly from the HW aspect, whereas > Xilinx is worse from the SW build environment.
Hmm. I'm not sure how to react to that. I guess if Altera comes a-knocking, I'll REALLY run screaming at that point.
> Lotsa' Luck!
Thanks, I am undoubtedly going to need it.