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Forum Index : Microcontroller and PC projects : FPGA - cheap Intel (Altera) board

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Mixtel90

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Joined: 05/10/2019
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 1196
Posted: 04:05pm 15 Oct 2021
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There's a brief youtube look at the board I have on order here.

There's another here.  It's quite a good one. There's some good information in the comments too. This video covers some VHDL.

Stuff on the web seems to mostly be using version Quartus 11.1, but that version is no longer available. The only current version that still supports the Cyclone II is 13.0 SP1. So far I have found differences that I've not figured out.

Whether this stuff is going to be of any use to an absolute beginner with FPGAs remains to be seen. :)
-- Mick

Zilog Inside! nascom.info for Nascom & Gemini
 
Tinine
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Joined: 30/03/2016
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 726
Posted: 08:30pm 15 Oct 2021
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  Mixtel90 said  

Whether this stuff is going to be of any use to an absolute beginner with FPGAs remains to be seen. :)


Almost stopped me from sneaking out for a quick pint but hey, I have my tablet and they have WiFi....sorted  
 
Mixtel90

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Joined: 05/10/2019
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 1196
Posted: 10:56am 23 Oct 2021
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The Altera kit has arrived. Looks rather nice. They send it without the headers soldered so you could keep it right way up and plug it into a bigger board if you wanted to (and managed to arrange the tracks!). There is a position for a 2-pin header next to the power socket and it's wired in parallel with it, but they don't provide a header for that.

It comes with a test program in its flash memory, so feeding it with 5v makes the 3 LEDs on the board flash. At least I know it's not completely DOA. :) The USB Blaster programmer is a neat little plastic box. There are USBA-miniUSB and an IDE lead provided so it's ready to go.

Of course, there are no instructions, data sheets, connection diagrams, packing list or anything like that provided. :)

The FPGA board has two programming sockets. One talks directly to the FPGA and is used for development. All programming is lost when power to the chip is lost but programming is fast. The other socket is used to program the flash memory. The FPGA reads its configuration from this on boot up, so you use this when you have a working configuration. It's a bit slower using this. The USB Blaster can use both programming modes.
-- Mick

Zilog Inside! nascom.info for Nascom & Gemini
 
Fingerhoff

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Joined: 21/01/2021
Location: Germany
Posts: 11
Posted: 04:17pm 23 Oct 2021
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Stumbled upon that board on ebay a few times. Looked rather interesting due to it's low price-point. Never found the time to look into it, though.
Any specfic projects planed for it or do you just want to dive into the whole fpga-thing a little ?
 
Mixtel90

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Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 1196
Posted: 05:05pm 23 Oct 2021
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Oh yes...  :)
As you can see from my sig, I'm into Nascom computers. Someone on the Nascom group has come up with a modern interpretation of the Nascom 2 based on the MultiComp by Grant Searle. It uses this FPGA board to form the Z80, ROMs, 2 VGA outputs, PS/2 keyboard input, Nascom keyboard input, Serial port, SDcard interface, memory mapper for up to 512k RAM, bus interface and some of the RAM. The local bus interface allows connection of real Z80 PIO and CTC chips. The PIO allows connection of a floppy disk controller.

So that's the main project. I also ordered a second FPGA board, initially for playing with but it will probably end up as a dedicated CPM computer the same size as the CMM2 Gen 1 eventually. I've been playing on the CAD to fit it in. :) If I can learn enough VHDL I'd like it to look like a Gemini computer ideally - a very "clean" machine memory-wise as the keyboard and video are on a board accessed via Z80 ports so they take up zero RAM.
Edited 2021-10-24 03:06 by Mixtel90
-- Mick

Zilog Inside! nascom.info for Nascom & Gemini
 
Fingerhoff

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Joined: 21/01/2021
Location: Germany
Posts: 11
Posted: 05:23pm 23 Oct 2021
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Oookaayy, those are some very specific (and seemingly advanced) projects, Mick.
Looking forward to your posts on how they turn out

Guess I'm the noob here, since I just started messing around with FPGAs a while back and I'm nowhere near doing something like that. Then again, I DO have some siginficant knowledge gaps when it comes to elementary electronics, so that may be the reason
 
On the subject of noob,...shocking news! I never even heard about those nascom computer. A quick glance at that blog in your sig, piques my interest, though. Guess, I'm gonna have a cup of coffee and good read tommorrow...
Edited 2021-10-24 03:24 by Fingerhoff
 
Mixtel90

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Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 1196
Posted: 06:10pm 23 Oct 2021
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The Nascom project shouldn't be too bad, I don't need to do any VHDL - just learn how to drive the programmer. :)

The other project is initially like assembling a kit of bits by cutting & pasting code to make the initial machine. Modifying it to look like a Gemini is where the difficult bit comes in...

I'm a complete noob with FPGAs. Today is the first day that I've ever knowingly seen one!

I've put more hours than I care to think of into that web site. lol
The Nascom was quite big in Germany at the time. There were (at least) two German magazines - Nascom Journal and 80-Bus Journal. Link
-- Mick

Zilog Inside! nascom.info for Nascom & Gemini
 
Tinine
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Joined: 30/03/2016
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 726
Posted: 09:51pm 23 Oct 2021
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I bet the first few paragraphs of "About" on Nascom.info have all of us here nodding our heads in agreement. Such a shame....kids don't know what they're missing.
 
Mixtel90

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Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 1196
Posted: 07:38am 24 Oct 2021
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Yep. It's odd though that things have come full circle, to some extent, with the development of the FPGA. It should be possible to go back to The Cheap Video Cookbook (1978) and "build" Don Lancaster's original designs. :)  That would be cool if the FPGA was also running a 6502 CPU core (which is available) as that's what Don targeted several of the designs at.

It's not the same without the solder fumes though. :)
-- Mick

Zilog Inside! nascom.info for Nascom & Gemini
 
Mixtel90

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Joined: 05/10/2019
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 1196
Posted: 08:05am 25 Oct 2021
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Well, I've actually done something (but I'm not sure what yet :) ).

I set up the USB Blaster this morning (you have to install the driver that comes with the Quartus software) and used it to transfer the Nascom 4 file into an FPGA. The file transfer took about 5s including verification so it was a bit of a non-event really, but I'm sure some of you were wondering which drawer I shoved the bits into to lose them.

As yet the only sign of life is that the 3 LEDs that flashed have been replaced by one LED that's always on, but you have to start somewhere and there's no hardware attached so I can't see anything yet. If I solder the headers on and hang some resistors and a VGA connection on it I should get a display. If so, it will enable me to pick resistor values to get an amber display on one of the ports and green on the other. :) (Colour displays? What are those? This is 1979!)

I tried to run the learning course/demo that's included with the Quartus software, using Pale Moon, Edge and Vivaldi browsers. Don't bother - it seems to be using Adobe Flash so no current browser will touch it.


EDIT:
Incidentally, you get used to powering a board via it's USB programming connection. That doesn't apply here - the programmer and the FPGA board both require 5v supplies. I used two USB ports on the (powered) USB hub.
Edited 2021-10-25 19:04 by Mixtel90
-- Mick

Zilog Inside! nascom.info for Nascom & Gemini
 
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