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First Impression (4) - The BeMicro Max 10 Evaulation Kit, A FPGA Perspective

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When is a Complex Logic Programmable Device (CLPD) not a CPLD? When it is being presented as an entry-level FPGA. The arrival of the Max 10 in the FPGA arena is an interesting one and could be the final confluence of Altera's CPLDs with their FPGAs. A historic matter that irked their main rival for many years.

Have Altera finally reached the decision that the traditional CPLD has no place in the modern programmable logic world? Or have they simply added some macro and analog components to TSMC’s 55 nm embedded NOR flash technology to create an FPGA with instant-on functionality? Well, Arrow have released the Max 10 FPGA Evaluation Kit for you to decide for yourself, as we do in this blog post.

The BeMicro Max 10 FPGA Evaluation kit is another FPGA development board from Arrow's now stable diet of the BeMicro family of entry-level FPGA boards. These series of boards are becoming familiar in low cost projects, where a medium FPGA performance is required at a modest price.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel - Maya Angelou

The 10M08DAF848C8G Max 10 device on this kit contains the equivalent of 8,000 Logic Elements (LEs), lots of embedded memory (414Kb + 256Kb), two Phase-Locked Loops (PLLs) and twenty-four 18 x 18-bit multipliers. Although it does not contain the macro DSP blocks of its more established siblings the 18 x 18-bit multipliers could be used creatively for the same purpose, albeit at slower frequencies.

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 Apart from the 10M08DAF848C8G Max 10 device, the kit has 8MB of external SDRAM, 2 PMOD headers and two 2 x 20-way prototype headers. As expected, an 80-pin BeMicro SDK header is also provided. Interestingly or ironically depending on ones sense of humour, the USB Blaster on the board includes Altera's Max V CPLD, the Max 10's predecessor. Push buttons and LEDs are available on the kit too, as are the other sensors and devices seen in the image below, taken from Altera's website.

The accelerometer found on this  kit is the ADXL362, which  is one of Analog Devices' 3-axis MEMS accelerometer with an output data rate of 100Hz or 400Hz. It supports a standard SPI interface. One nice things about this board, as with all of their BeMicro family of boards, is that Arrow have mapped the differential pairs to the GPIO pins. This is a nice touch and extremely helpful to those trying to interface their digital hardware to LVDS devices. A 2.5mm jack has also been provided to connect an external 5V power source.

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Quite interestingly a 12-bit DAC, the AD5681 is also provided on the evaluation kit. However, this DAC is not a power house device, far from it, as its list of applications areas suggests, which include digital gain and offset adjustment, as well as programmable voltage sources. It can also be used for process control and in data acquisition systems.

According to Altera, the Max 10 device's "Integrated features include analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) and dual configuration flash allowing you to store and dynamically switch between two images on a single chip." It will be interesting to know what dynamically switching actually means in terms of reconfiguration time.

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The ADC within the Max 10 has a 12-bit resolution and a cumulative sampling rate of up to 1 Million Samples Per Second (MSPS) for analog-to-digital data conversion applications. Each ADC device has up to 17 single-ended external inputs on one dedicated analog pin and 16 dual-function input pins.

Max 10 FPGA 10M50 Development Kit, The Older Sibling

Before spending one's hard earned cash on the BeMicro Max 10 FPGA Evaluation Kit one may want to wait for the release of the  Max 10 FPGA 10M50 Development Kit. It uses a 50,000 Logic Element (LE) variant of the Max 10, the 10M50, which has, importantly IOHO, 144 18 x 18-bit multipliers. The dual Gigabit Ethernet ports look quite useful too, as well as the PMOD connectors and the prized HSMC port.

The Max 10 device on this development kit may turn out to be one of the most important members of the Max 10 family when low cost Digital Signal Processing (DSP) applications are considered. This may especially be the case when 18-bit or 27-bit floating-point arithmetic is considered, as we will be demonstrating in a future blog and tutorial series.

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Conclusion

If the BeMicro Max 10 is the Mini of the Max 10 series of development boards, then the 10M50 development kit should be considered to be the Rolls Royce. Although we shouldn't let the 10M50 steal the BeMicro Max 10's thunder, we are finding it hard to keep our eyes off it. We are not sure who designed this kit, but it has a certain Tiawanese manufacturer's tell-tale finger prints all over it.

Both of these boards could possible be winners, the BeMicro Max 10 for its price point and the 10M50 development kit for its features. However, all is not well and we should say we are slightly concerned at the price of the individual Max 10 devices, at least for those advertised for sale so far.

This is especially the case when a main rival in the ICE40HX8K by Lattice Semiconductor is extremely cheap and supports the latest I/O standards like the subLVDS, as does the Max 10. The ICE40HX8K device could be considered, as a cheaper alternative, for use in some of the traditional "glue logic" markets that the Max 10 device family could and should occupy. Unfortunately, when a CPLD is no longer a CLPD it becomes an FPGA and its CPLD market disappears. Hence, for us the jury is still out on this one.

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