A student’s view on utilizing FPGA boards in education.
By Zach Nelson
It’s time for universities to say goodbye to their outdated FPGA boards and introduce the Xilinx Zynq chip. The chip is a device which combines an FPGA fabric with a processing unit. The chip is very similar to other FPGA devices, but it does have a few key advantages and features that can enhance your designs and increase its capabilities.
What can Zynq do?
The Zynq chip has applications in the design fields related to:
The programmable logic can be used in isolation of the processor which allows it to be used like a general FPGA device which can help support the topics covered in any VHDL/Verilog class as well as digital design. It is much easier to facilitate growth and learning in a project-based curriculum when you have a device to interface with.
A very practical use is as an embedded system. It is made to facilitate embedded SoC designs, take on the signal processing responsibilities in robotics and can be useful in prototyping designs to see functional design use. Since the Zynq is comprised of a PS and PL, it is good chance to learn both about the processing architecture as well as FPGA.
When working in some signal processing or image/video processing fields, it can be used to implement a specific filter in a Software-Defined Radio or an edge detection algorithm while doing image and video processing. This can help bridge the gap from the theory covered in signal processing classes and practical use and implementation. The visual feedback really shows how the algorithm is adjusting/reconfiguring the signal.
There is also something to be said about the relevancy that Zynq has in university related research. As a relatively young product, the full scope of its capabilities remain to be seen but it has been a part of a number of research topics such as:
How can I work with Zynq?
There are several boards out there created to interface with the Zynq chip. The TySOM development board created by Aldec utilizes the Zynq chip (XC7Z030 to be specific) and has some handy peripheral features which enhance the experience.
Aside from the HDMI, USB 3.0 & 2.0, Headphone jack, mini PCIe connector, UART connector, microSD Card reader, internet connectivity, and camera connector the TySOM also has simple peripherals like switches and LEDs.
It also has 2×256 MB DDR memory, increasing its processing power.
Design flow using the TySOM board is straight forward and made simple. You start by creating your Zynq-based hardware project in Xilinx Vivado, running block-level and system-level RTL simulation in Aldec’s Riviera-PRO, generating the bitstream from Vivado Synthesis and Implementation, creating software applications and generating boot files in Xilinx SDK, and finally running the full hardware/software embedded design on the TySOM board.
Using this technology to facilitate learning in a university setting promotes in-classroom growth and gets students acquainted with the industry standard for design and emulation. The uses for a PS-PL chip extends beyond the classroom to use within research. It’s high utility and performance make it a great classroom companion.
Zach Nelson is a Field Application Engineer Intern with Aldec, working in tandem with his fellow interns to develop hardware specific applications. He is set to graduate with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2017. His field interests include ASIC Design & Solid State Electronics.