[linux-elitists] Free FPGA software on Linux

Michael Baxter mab@cruzio.com
Wed Oct 6 17:54:54 PDT 2004


Xilinx FPGAs are the best on Earth. There are some potential solutions for 
use of the tools for these devices, and there are also some accessible 
free (as in freedom) tools. In addition there are numerous free hardware 
netlists available.

First, you can use either the free WebPack, or a 60-day evalution copy of
a conventional tool that does run Linux. It is quite annoying that these
are Windows-only, but even this has had a solution for some time now:

If your hobby work can possibly fit a CPLD, there is still a free (as in
cost) design tool service called WebFitter that Xilinx provides over the
web. This supports numerous CPLD devices, including some that are the 
size of FPGAs from yesteryear. Additionally very high-speed (3 nS) but 
ultra-low power devices like CoolRunner are supported. Look here:

There are some incredible non-free (as in cost) but still low-cost FPGA 
starter kit solutions available. This is a kit for $99 that supports a 
200000-gate FPGA, which is still quite a lot of gates and flip-flops:

There is also a similar kit for a CPLD at 1/2 the cost the FPGA kit:

You can use the free (as in freedom) software WINE to run the software for 
these starter kits.

There was a Linux Journal article covering the Linux FPGA Tools, if you 
want to see what that's like:

You can also do synthesis and simulation up to the point of implementation 
tools for the particular technology CPLD or FPGA using Icarus Verilog. 
Icarus Verilog is GPL'ed, and has been continuously maintained for a 
decade. The tool's own maintainer uses it everyday for work with the  
latest Xilinx FPGA devices.

Icarus Verilog is robust and powerful, and has been covered twice in Linux 
Journal. One of these articles has some nice HowTo information. Look here:

If you do prefer VHDL, IMHO the Xilinx tools are probably your best bet 
because VHDL is a big language and the free tools for VHDL are mainly 
simulators. I would say synthesis for FPGA is not matched nearly as well 
in VHDL as what Icarus Verilog does. I could be wrong about this, but 
that's been my impression for an ongoing amount of time so far.

Lastly, here's an enormous collection of open source cores, hardware 
designs, and technical documentation, plus a strong user community:

Kindly yours,
Michael Baxter

On Wed, 6 Oct 2004, Brian Danger Hicks wrote:

> I've been thinking about getting into some hobbyist-type stuff with
> FPGAs, and there seem to be all sorts of low-cost development boards
> around now, and all the major players seem to be offering a
> free-as-in-beer versions of their development suites.  But even though
> these companies offer Linux support in their full versions (which cost
> thousands of dollars) all of their free versions are windows-only.
> So, the question then is what can I do to get FPGA development from HDL
> to downloading on Linux?  Obviously I'd prefer open-source, but simply
> being able to do all that stuff on without breaking the bank would
> be acceptable.
> -- 
> Brian Hicks               <mailto:hick0142@umn.edu>
>    <http://zork.net/~octal> <ham:KC0OIH> <PGP:0xADDD1F16>

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