FPGA solutions accelerate development

18th October 2018
Alex Lynn

Continuing time and cost pressures mean that it is more important than ever for startups and established companies to get their ideas from concept to production in as timely and reliable a way as possible. This has led to some development platforms becoming the foundation of end products.

By Helmut Plötz, Technology Supplier Business Manager EMEA, Arrow Electronics.

One example of this, is the MAX1000 FPGA IoT board, which was developed by Arrow Electronics in collaboration with Trenz Electronic.

Based on the Intel FPGA MAX10, the MAX1000 was initially intended to be a low-cost maker board but it is now being widely employed as a component of many different applications. This is because it is not just an easy to use entry-level board but is already fully qualified and thus suitable for use in finished products.

Many different versions are possible, it can be incorporated in unchanged form, with add-ons or modified as required, or restyled to provide an extended customer-specific MAX10 system. It is possible to prepare a prototype of a new MAX1000 model based on detailed customer specifications in just a few weeks.

When it comes to time-to-market, this rapidity represents a particular advantage as any in-house development involving the necessary procurement and production would otherwise take considerably longer, not to mention the time required for the whole qualification process.

The availability of existing Quartus Prime software designs and projects also means that there are ready points of access, again reducing the time required for the realisation of the application. Use of the board results in time- and cost-savings across the whole of the development process while the associated risk is reduced as an already qualified product is being used.

Multiple variants

There are currently three variants of the MAX1000 with different logic densities and memory capacities available as add-ons. In addition, versions supporting SMD soldering and pluggable system-on-modules have been developed in response to customer requirements, together with others offering supplementary functions and interfaces, sensors and storage options.

In its standard version, the MAX1000 provides many useful and carefully-designed features that can be readily adopted by customers for their own in-house applications. At the core is an Intel FPGA MAX10 single-chip concept, with scalable logic density of 2 to 16 KLE, integrated dual boot and user flash, a 12-bit ADC, DSP blocks, instant switch-on reaction and an implemented NIOS II softcore for simple C programming

Security Flash

An external SDRAM is provided as additional memory card or for volatile data storage. A QSPI flash memory is integrated in the FPGA to help deal with larger programs and data volumes. Instead of a standard flash system it employs the W74M Winbond Authentication and Security Flash with extended functions. In addition to the flash memory, the W74M incorporates a HMAC-SHA-256 crypto accelerator and four separate counters with individually selectable volatile and non-volatile security keys. This means that memory values transmitted via SPI can be given a time stamp and appropriately encoded, thus effectively protecting information against external hackers.

The W74M enables developers to safeguard their codes and data, and also provides for enhanced security through the multiple authentication options at all levels. Thanks to the four provided keys, authentication processes can be initiated for the own CPU/FPGA, the higher level gateway, the linked data Cloud through to the app on mobile devices, so that completely encoded data transmission is possible.

For initial demo projects with the MAX1000, a three axis accelerometer sensor, eight LEDs and two switches were incorporated, which could be used, for example, to run a spirit level application or even an indoor tracking system.

Provided to facilitate connectivity to external features such as sensors, interfaces or signals are a PMOD and Arduino MKR pin that are compatible with various ready boards on the market. Power is supplied via an efficient and space-saving DC-to-DC converter module with integrated Enpirion spool cable providing the necessary five volts via USB that is the only source of power required by the MAX1000.

Also integrated is a MEMS oscillator that provides the basic pulse for the MAX1000 and for the FTDI USB to JTAG bridge as programming/debug interface.

Inclusive debug tools

Another of the advantages of the MAX1000 board is the inclusion of the Arrow USB Programmer2, which now operates at high speeds and offers many practical additional features. Via a USB port, two channels are opened to a PC, a JTAG and a UART, so that debugging of the FPGA using a USB connection is possible while at the same time UART data can be displayed on the screen.

The licensing conditions of the USB Programmer2 driver software mean that use in connection with the Arrow-designed boards costs nothing. As the USB Programmer2 is also particularly useful to customers for FPGA board development, it has also been made available as a low cost, stand-alone small board with JTAG plug for use during development and as a licensed SMD solderable module for use in end applications.

Future developments

Based on the same form-factor as the MAX1000, the CYC1000 board is now also available that incorporates the new Cyclone10 LP with 25 KLE and offers a range of functions similar to those of the MAX1000. Like the MAX1000, the CYC1000 can be integrated in unchanged or modified form in end products as it has already been fully qualified.

Available in the near future will be the Cyclone10 LP Reference Kit offering 55 KLE; this will contain the full range of interfaces and memory features, including two Ethernet 10/100, USB 2.0, VGA, multichannel ADC/DAC, SDRAM, HyperRAM, flash, an oscillator, PMOD, Arduino, LVDS, seven segment display, LEDs and switches.

Currently under development is a Cyclone 10 GX system-on-module that will be a performance class higher; this will have the following features: 220 KLE, 12x 12.5 Gbit transceivers, a high number of LVDS connectors, Gbit Ethernet, DDR3, security, clocking and much more. This SOM will make it possible to create cost-effective applications for the interfaces ten Gbit Ethernet, USB3.x, JESD204B and for applications in the fields of acceleration, BigData, gateways, industrial, video and camera applications, to name but a few.

In an era in which change is happening ever more rapidly and systems are becoming increasingly complex, solutions need to be found that can be realised within a realistic time and cost framework. The MAX1000 board can provide an important basis for achieving this.

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