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USB Blaster JTAG programmer for less than a tenner!

Posted by on in A Day In The Life of A Hobbyist Design Engineer
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If you have been working with Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) as long as I have then you probably remember the days when Universal Serial Bus (USB),  JTAG programmers first appeared  to replace their parallel port counterparts. You probably also remember the amount of money it cost to buy one. Then, to say that you could purchase a USB blaster for an arm and a leg was to be told they were being sold for a bargain!

Well, imagine my surprise when, out of curiosity, I decided to see how much they could be purchased on the bay and found one for about eight quid. Now, we all know that the dollar, the currency that some USB blasters are priced on the bay, is particularly weak at the moment due to the challenging and ongoing world financial crisis. Nevertheless, even at a favourable exchange rate for us over here, to be able to buy one for eight quid? Wow, that's quite amazing, but do they actually work?

Given that I wouldn't need to raid the piggy bank I decided to buy one and see how good this cheaper variant of Altera's USB blaster actually is. Well, after the habitual wait that occurs when you order an item which is located in  Dongguan province in Canton, China, the USB blaster was tested by plugging it into a PC and loading Altera's Quartus II software. As you can see, in the figure below, the answer is yes, it does work, as the USB Blaster is correctly recognised as a USB-0 device.

A list of features, found on the sellers website, include the following:

  • Compatible with Altera USBblaster
  • Support all series of Altera device.
  • CPLD: MAX3000, MAX7000, MAX9000, MAXII...
  • FPGA: Stratix, StratixII, StratixIII, StratixIV, Cyclone, CycloneII, CycloneIII, CycloneIV, ACES1K, APEX20k, FLEX10K..
  • Active serial configuration device: EPCS1, EPCS4, EPCS16, EPCS64...
  • Enhanced configuration device: EPC1, EPC4...
  • Support AS, PS and JTAG mode
  • Support SignalTap II embedded logic analyser
  • Support NIOS II debug* USB interface
  • Support Quartus II 4.0 and above version
  • Support Windows XP, windows Vista, Windows 7 and linux.

Well that's it really. Unfortunately I couldn't perform a JTAG test using an actual  Altera FPGA as the Cyclone III starter kit that I have needs some work. Some soldering is required  in order to get an external USB Blaster to work with its built-in one. However, at this stage I'm fairly happy that I have a working USB Blaster. Once I get the opportunity to program a board with it I will let you know.

That's it for today's web log! Bye.

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