virtex 7? · Issue #5 · fpgaminer/Open-Source-FPGA-Bitcoin ...

Best $100-$300 FPGA development board in 2018?

Hello, I’ve been trying to decide on a FPGA development board, and have only been able to find posts and Reddit threads from 4-5 years ago. So I wanted to start a new thread and ask about the best “mid-range” FGPA development board in 2018. (Price range $100-$300.)
I started with this Quora answer about FPGA boards, from 2013. The Altera DE1 sounded good. Then I looked through the Terasic DE boards.
Then I found this Reddit thread from 2014, asking about the DE1-SoC vs the Cyclone V GX Starter Kit: https://www.reddit.com/FPGA/comments/1xsk6w/cyclone_v_gx_starter_kit_vs_de1soc_board/‬ (I was also leaning towards the DE1-SoC.)
Anyway, I thought I better ask here, because there are probably some new things to be aware of in 2018.
I’m completely new to FPGAs and VHDL, but I have experience with electronics/microcontrollers/programming. My goal is to start with some basic soft-core processors. I want to get some C / Rust programs compiling and running on my own CPU designs. I also want to play around with different instruction sets, and maybe start experimenting with asynchronous circuits (e.g. clock-less CPUs)
Also I don’t know if this is possible, but I’d like to experiment with ternary computing, or work with analog signals instead of purely digital logic. EDIT: I just realized that you would call those FPAAs, i.e. “analog” instead of “gate”. Would be cool if there was a dev board that also had an FPAA, but no problem if not.
EDIT 2: I also realized why "analog signals on an FPGA" doesn't make any sense, because of how LUTs work. They emulate boolean logic with a lookup table, and the table can only store 0s and 1s. So there's no way to emulate a transistor in an intermediate state. I'll just have play around with some transistors on a breadboard.
UPDATE: I've put together a table with some of the best options:
Board Maker Chip LUTs Price SoC? Features
icoBoard Lattice iCE40-HX8K 7,680 $100 Sort of A very simple FPGA development board that plugs into a Raspberry Pi, so you have a "backup" hard-core CPU that can control networking, etc. Supports a huge range of pmod accessories. You can write a program/circuit so that the Raspberry Pi CPU and the FPGA work together, similar to a SoC. Proprietary bitstream is fully reverse engineered and supported by Project IceStorm, and there is an open-source toolchain that can compile your hardware design to bitstream. Has everything you need to start experimenting with FPGAs.
iCE40-HX8K Breakout Board Lattice iCE40-HX8K-CT256 7,680 $49 No 8 LEDs, 8 switches. Very similar to icoBoard, but no Raspberry Pi or pmod accessories.
iCE40 UltraPlus Lattice iCE40 UltraPlus FPGA 5280 $99 No Chip specs. 4 switchable FPGAs, and a rechargeable battery. Bluetooth module, LCD Display (240 x 240 RGB), RGB LED, microphones, audio output, compass, pressure, gyro, accelerometer.
Go Board Lattice ICE40 HX1K FPGA 1280 $65 No 4 LEDs, 4 buttons, Dual 7-Segment LED Display, VGA, 25 MHz on-board clock, 1 Mb Flash.
snickerdoodle Xilinx Zynq 7010 28K $95 Yes Xilinx Zynq 7-Series SoC - ARM Cortex-A9 processor, and Artix-7 FPGA. 125 IO pins. 1GB DDR2 RAM. Texas Instruments WiLink 8 wireless module for 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1. No LEDs or buttons, but easy to wire up your own on a breadboard. If you want to use a baseboard, you'll need a snickerdoodle black ($195) with the pins in the "down" orientation. (E.g. The "breakyBreaky breakout board" ($49) or piSmasher SBC ($195)). The snickerdoodle one only comes with pins in the "up" orientation and doesn't support any baseboards. But you can still plug the jumpers into the pins and wire up things on a breadboard.
numato Mimas A7 Xilinx Artix 7 52K $149 No 2Gb DDR3 RAM. Gigabit Ethernet. HDMI IN/OUT. 100MHz LVDS oscillator. 80 IOs. 7-segment display, LEDs, buttons. (Found in this Reddit thread.)
Ultra96 Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ ZU3EG 154K $249 Yes Has one of the latest Xilinx SoCs. 2 GB (512M x32) LPDDR4 Memory. Wi-Fi / Bluetooth. Mini DisplayPort. 1x USB 3.0 type Micro-B, 2x USB 3.0 Type A. Audio I/O. Four user-controllable LEDs. No buttons and limited LEDs, but easy to wire up your own on a breadboard
Nexys A7-100T Xilinx Artix 7 15,850 $265 No . 128MiB DDR2 RAM. Ethernet port, PWM audio output, accelerometer, PDM microphone, microphone, etc. 16 switches, 16 LEDs. 7 segment displays. USB HID Host for mice, keyboards and memory sticks.
Zybo Z7-10 Xilinx Zynq 7010 17,600 $199 Yes Xilinx Zynq 7000 SoC (ARM Cortex-A9, 7-series FPGA.) 1 GB DDR3 RAM. A few switches, push buttons, and LEDs. USB and Ethernet. Audio in/out ports. HDMI source + sink with CEC. 8 Total Processor I/O, 40 Total FPGA I/O. Also a faster version for $299 (Zybo Z7-20).
Arty A7 Xilinx Artix 7 15K $119 No 256MB DDR3L. 10/100 Mbps Ethernet. A few switches, buttons, LEDs.
DE10-Standard (specs) Altera Cyclone V 110K $350 Yes Dual-core Cortex-A9 processor. Lots of buttons, LEDs, and other peripherals.
DE10-Nano Altera Cyclone V 110K $130 Yes Same as DE10-Standard, but not as many peripherals, buttons, LEDs, etc.

Winner:

icoBoard ($100). (Buy it here.)
The icoBoard plugs into a Raspberry Pi, so it's similar to having a SoC. The iCE40-HX8K chip comes with 7,680 LUTs (logic elements.) This means that after you learn the basics and create some simple circuits, you'll also have enough logic elements to run the VexRiscv soft-core CPU (the lightweight Murax SoC.)
The icoBoard also supports a huge range of pluggable pmod accessories:
You can pick whatever peripherals you're interested in, and buy some more in the future.
Every FPGA vendor keeps their bitstream format secret. (Here's a Hacker News discussion about it.) The iCE40-HX8K bitstream has been fully reverse engineered by Project IceStorm, and there is an open-source set of tools that can compile Verilog to iCE40 bitstream.
This means that you have the freedom to do some crazy experiments, like:
You don't really have the same freedom to explore these things with Xilinx or Altera FPGAs. (Especially asynchronous circuits.)

Links:

Second Place:

iCE40-HX8K Breakout Board ($49)

Third Place:

numato Mimas A7 ($149).
An excellent development board with a Xilinx Artix 7 FPGA, so you can play with a bigger / faster FPGA and run a full RISC-V soft-core with all the options enabled, and a much higher clock speed. (The iCE40 FPGAs are a bit slow and small.)
Note: I've changed my mind several times as I learned new things. Here's some of my previous thoughts.

What did I buy?

I ordered a iCE40-HX8K Breakout Board to try out the IceStorm open source tooling. (I would have ordered an icoBoard if I had found it earlier.) I also bought a numato Mimas A7 so that I could experiment with the Artix 7 FPGA and Xilinx software (Vivado Design Suite.)

Questions

What can I do with an FPGA? / How many LUTs do I need?

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