Tag Archives: vhdl

A Recipe for Embedded Systems



One thing that is always important for engineers, is the need for us to deliver our projects on quality, schedule and budget. When it comes to developing embedded systems there are a number of lessons, learnt by embedded system developers over the years which can be used to ensure your embedded system achieves these. Let us explore some of the most important lessons learned in developing these.

Link – Page34


Making XDC Timing Constraints Work for You



Completing the RTL design is one part of getting
your FPGA design production-ready.
The next challenge is to ensure the design
meets its timing and performance requirements
in the silicon. To do this, you will often need to
define both timing and placement constraints.
Let’s take a look at how to create and use both
of these types of constraints when designing systems
around Xilinx® FPGAs and SoCs



SDSoC Accelerate your AES Encryption



The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) has become an increasingly popular cryptographic specification in many applications, including those within embedded systems. Since the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) selected the speci- cation as a standard in 2002, developers of processor, microcontroller, FPGA and SoC applications have turned to AES to secure data entering, leaving and residing within their systems. The algorithm is described very efficiently at a higher abstraction level, as is used in traditional software development; but because of the operations involved, it is most efficiently implemented in an FPGA. Indeed, developers can even get some operations “for free” in the routing. For those reasons, AES is an excellent example of how developers can benefit from the Xilinx® SDSoC™ development environment by describing the algorithm in C and then accelerating the implementation in hardware. In this article we will do just that, first gaining familiarity with the AES algorithm and then implementing AES256 (256-bit key length) on the processing system (PS) side of a Xilinx Zynq®-7000 All Programmable SoC to establish a baseline of software performance before accelerating it in the onchip programmable logic (PL). To gain a thorough understanding of the benefits to be gained, we will perform the steps in all three operating systems the
SDSoC environment supports: Linux, FreeRTOS and BareMetal





Pretty much every embedded system / FPGA design has to interface to the real world through sensors or external interfaces. Some systems require large volumes of data to be moved around very quickly, in which case high-speed communications interfaces like PCI-X, Giga Bit Ethernet, USB, Fire/ SpaceWire, or those featuring multi-gigabit transceivers may be employed.

However, many embedded systems also need to interface to slower interfaces for sensors, memories and other peripherals these systems can employ one or more of the simpler communications protocols. The four simplest, and therefore most commonly used, protocols are as follows.

  • UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver Transmitter): This comprises a number of standards defined by the Electronic Industry Association (EIA), the most popular being the RS-232, RS-422, and RS-485 interfaces. These standards are often used for inter-module communication (that is, the transfer of data and supervisory control between different modules forming the system) as opposed to between the FPGA and peripherals on the same board, although I am sure there are plenty of applications that do this also. These standards defined are a mixture of point-to-point and multi-drop buses.
  • SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface): This is a full-duplex, serial, four-wire interface that was originally developed by Motorola, but which has developed into a de facto standard. This standard is commonly used for intra-module communication (that is, transferring data between peripherals and the FPGA within the same system module). Often used for memory devices, analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), CODECs, and MultiMediaCard (MMC) and Secure Digital (SD) memory cards, the system architecture of this interface consists of a single master device and multiple slave devices.
  • I2C (Inter-Integrated Circuit): This is a multi-master, two-wire serial bus that was developed by Phillips in the early 1980s with a similar purpose as SPI. Due to the two-wire nature of this interface, communications are only possible in half-duplex mode.
  • Parallel: Perhaps the simplest method of transferring data between an FPGA and an on-board peripheral, this supports half-duplex communications between the master and the slave. Depending upon the width of data to be transferred, coupled with the addressable range, a parallel interface may be small and simple or large and complex.

The arty board provides four PMOD outputs (JA through JD) along with the Arduino / ChipKit shield connector through which we can interface with peripherals using these interfaces. Over the next few weeks I am going to interface the PModDA4 (SPI) and the PModAD2 (I2C) to the MicroBlaze System that we have created.

The first step is to generate the hardware build within Vivado such that we can interface to the PMODs. We can add in a AXI SPI controller from the IP library and configure it to be a standard SPI driver and not a dual or quad (more on those in future blogs). We can also add in the AXI IIC (remember to search for iic not i2c) controller module and connect it up to the AXI bus, do not forget to add both interrupts to the interrupt controller.



Once both controllers are within the design the next step is to customise for application at hand, with these complete we can assign the i2c and SPI pins to the correct external ports for the PMOD desired.

All that remains then is to build the hardware and write the software, it sounds so easy when we say it quickly.


Arty – In Chip Logic Analyser


Sometimes despite the simulation we have performed upon our design we still have issues with the design on the hardware. One way we can debug in the hardware is to use a ILA within our hardware design, this gives us the ability to monitor either a number of AXI interfaces or discrete inputs.

Adding in an AXI monitor on the AXI interface to the XADC we are currently using in our example we enable us to monitor the transactions. In this case just such that we can examine them however in other instances it may be necessary due to design or integration issues.

We can add in the ILA into our design from the Integration library in our block diagram.


Insertion of the ILA into the Design

By default, the ILA is configured to monitor a AXI interface however, we can change its settings by double clicking on the ILA block and customising as required. We can add in trigger ports, capture control and comparators to trigger on specific patterns in the data stream. For this example, I am going to keep it fairly simple to show the flow and then we can look at more advanced aspects once this is understood.



Customising the ILA

With the ILA inserted into the design the next stage is to reset the generated outputs and then re generate these such that we can implement the design. Once the design is implemented we can then programme the device using the hardware manager, it is via the hardware manager that we can also examine the contents of the interfaces we wished to examine.

Using the hardware manager, we should connect to our Arty target, the next step is to programme the FPGA and initialise the logic analyser. To achieve this we need both the bit file and the definition of the debug nets we wanted to examine in the Vivado block diagram, you will see this as the ltx file within the projects runs / implementation directory beside the bit file.


Identifying the ltx file


Configuring the device and debug profile.

Once these files have been configured we will see the screen below open up in the hardware manager which provides the interface we can use to configure the triggering, capture mode and arm the ILA core.

Once we have configured the core as we wish, we can examine the waveform in the waveform viewer below.



ILA Configuration and control scheme in Hardware Manager



Captured Waveform

With the simple flow explained we can, in the next blog look at how we can use more advanced features of the ILA.


Arty – Building MicroBlaze in Vivado


The Arty board is the next generation of the very useful LX9 MicroBoard however, it takes account of advances in devices and interfacing. I ordered mine just before I recently flew to Japan, and it was waiting for me when I returned.



The Arty is marketed as the perfect development platform for MicroBlaze applications as such when I opened my Arty the first thing I wanted to do was a new build from scratch of a MicroBlaze system. This way I could really understand the ease (or not) with which it could be developed, in the end it was very easy to create both the hardware application and create the simple software to say hello world.

To get MicroBlaze up and running on my Arty I did the following

  • Download and install the most update version of Vivado (remember to install the Vivado Design Edition)
  • Redeem the license for the Vivado SW which comes with the Arty
  • Download the Arty board definitions
  • Create the hardware definition within a new Vivado project
  • Build the hardware definition and export it to SDK
  • Create out SW application – This needs Hardware Definition, Board Support Package and Application SW.

While it may seem daunting these stages can be achieved quickly, also I am not going to talk you through how to do the first two points as they are very straight forward.

Which brings us to downloading the board definitions, these are available at the following link https://reference.digilentinc.com/vivado:boardfiles Once you have downloaded the board files you need to extract the Arty board definitions and store it within your Vivado installation <VIVADO DIRECTORY>/data/boards/ on my system the path is C:\Xilinx\Vivado\2015.3\data\boards\board_files

Within the arty directory you will then see the board definition XML and most helpfully a mig.prj this is the settings for the memory interface generator for if we wish to use the DDR on the arty (and we will of course).

This enables us to create a new project and select the Arty board, which is our next step


Once we have the project created the next step is to create the MicroBlaze system, to do this we need to create a block diagram within which we can create our system. You can create a block diagram by selecting Create Block Diagram option under the Flow Navigator on the left of Vivado


Once the block diagram is open we need to add the following things to it

  • MicroBlaze System – See end of blog for customisation
  • Memory Interface Generator – This uses the arty settings so it is just a case of scrolling through and generating the options
  • AXI UART lite – for communication externally – double click on it to set your RS232 options the default is 9600 no parity one stop bit
  • AXI Timer
  • AXI Interrupt Controller – We need a concatenate block to drive the interrupt from the timer and the AXI UART lite
  • AXI BRAM Controller and BRAM for the AXI Data and Instruction Cache
  • Clocking wizard to output a 166.667 MHz Clock and a 200 MHz Clock
  • MicroBlaze Debug Module
  • AXI Peripheral Interconnect to connect to the timer and UART
  • AXI Memory Interconnect to connect to the MIG (DDR) and the AXI BRAM controller
  • Processor Reset System

The clocking of the MicroBlaze and all AXI peripherals should use the output clock from the MIG (ui_clk) while the MCM reset from the MIG block should be fed back to the processor reset system DCM input, the ui_clk_rst goes to the ext_reset_in on the reset block.

The clock wizard outputs connects as below


The rest of the connections are pretty straight forward AXI connections, the only difference is the need to add in a MicroBlaze Local DLMB and ILMB memory we can use the Run Block Automation Option (MicroBlaze) available on top of the block diagram editor.

When it is all complete your diagram will look like the below


The one thing we have not done by this point is to connect up the IO on the design to those on the board. We can do this by selecting on the board tab within the block diagram


We can then right click on a signal we wish to use and select Connect Board Component as below


It is then just a simple case of selecting the existing IP to connect it to


Do this for the following

  • Sys_clk – 100 MHz clock on the Arty
  • DDR3_SDRAM – the DDR on the arty
  • USB_UART – How we will say hello world
  • Reset – Reset input

This saves us from having to write a XDC file with the pin locations needed to ensure we use the correct IO with the board.

With this completed we can validate our design and we should not get any warnings – if you have any address issues see he Address Editor tab mine looked like below when it was validated OK


Once it has validated OK you are in a position that you can build the hardware, and export the hardware definition to SDK.

I will post another blog tomorrow on how to get the SDK side of things up and running but below is the result


Below are the MicroBlaze customisations






Things to consider for your prototype


One the most exciting, fun and terrifying stages of engineering is when the first prototypes or engineering models arrive in the lab and are ready for testing. You will have been planning for this day for a long time (hopefully) as the cost of identifying and correcting errors later on in the production run only increases.

Planning for this day will have started right back at the concept of the design as you considered how you would test the functionality being designed into the hardware, FPGA and processors etc. Ensuring you have provided sufficient test points and protected them appropriately (you would hate to short out a rail as you tried to measure the voltage). One thing you also need to consider is accessibility of these test points and debug headers to ensure you can actually access them. Another aspect to consider is how you can test the board on its own will you need any special to type test equipment to enable you to test it, when will it be available.

You will also need to compile a test plan to detail everything you intend to test and the expected results otherwise how else can you be expected to know if performs as required or not.

Once you get the hardware in the lab the testing is generally split into two sections the section is checking the hardware integrity i.e. can it be powered on safely and is it suitable for further testing. During this stage you will check the board has been manufactured and populated correctly, that the voltage rails are safe to turn on and then will come the moment of truth when you have to apply power to the board for the first time. This is always a nerve wracking moment…

Once you have applied power you will be looking at the current drawn against your projections, are the clocks at the correct frequency, does the protection circuitry (over voltage / under voltage) resets and sequencing function as desired. This is the basic engineering tests that will be your first priority however; you will soon progress to wanting to test the more complex interfaces and then the performance.

Some of these may be able to be tested via JTAG / Boundary scan however it is only really testing at speed that you can relax a little (you can never truly relax even after all the qualification testing) It is therefore a great idea to have developed some simple test code for your FPGA or microprocessor to prevent you having to debug both the FPGA/Microprocessor design and the board design. I am sure we have all spent many hours looking into is the issue with the board, FPGA, processor or even worse the ASIC.

Once you have completed the integrity checks you can then proceed to testing the functionality and working out what changes you need to make to the next iteration if any.

Of course at some point I am sure you will encounter problems the most important thing to remember at that point is to not panic and attempt to determine the root cause of the issue even if there is nothing you can do about it on the prototype.


Euromicro Conference on Digital System Design (DSD) 2007



Safety-critical systems nowadays include more and
more embedded computer systems, based on different hardware
platforms. These hardware platforms, reaching from microcontrollers
to programmable logic devices, lead to fundamental
differences in design. Major differences result from different
hardware architectures and their robustness and reliability as
well as from differences in the corresponding software design.
This paper gives an overview on how these hardware platforms
differ with respect to fault handling possibilities as fault avoidance
and fault tolerance and the resulting influence on the safety
of the overall system.



A Comparative Survey


ZedBoard Part 4 Configuration


If you read this mini-series, you know that I have reached the stage where I have a simple Hello World program running on my Zynq when it is connected to the software development kit. In reality, however, this is not much good. For a real-world use model, we will want to store our software program and configuration bitstream in nonvolatile memory and configure the device following power-on.

But how do we do this? For those used to a traditional FPGA development and configuration flow, this is a little different from what one might initially imagine. In fact, it will take me a couple of blogs to explain it all, but I promise this will be worthwhile, so please bear with me.

Before I jump into the tools and processes you need to follow to create the boot file, I had better explain the basics of the Zynq configuration. In a Zynq system, the processing system is the master and always configures the programmable logic side of things, unless the JTAG interface is used. This means that the processing system can be powered and operating while the programmable logic remains unpowered (unless secure configuration is used).

The processing system therefore follows a typical processor boot sequence, initially running from an internal nonmodifiable boot PROM. This boot PROM contains drivers for the supported nonvolatile memories, along with drivers for the programmable logic configuration. The boot PROM also loads in the next stage of the boot loader, the first stage boot loader (FSBL), which is user-provided. The FSBL can then configure the DDR memory and other peripherals on the processor before loading the software application and configuring the programmable logic (if desired) using the processor configuration access port. The PCAP allows both partial and full configuration of the programmable logic.  This means the programmable logic can be programed at any time once the processing system is up and running. Also, the configuration can be read back and checked for errors.

The Zynq supports both secure and nonsecure methods of configuration. In the case of secure configuration, the programmable logic section of the device must be powered up as the hard macro. The advanced encryption standard and secure hash algorithm needed for decryption are located within the programmable logic side of the device.

The Zynq processing system can be configured via a number of different nonvolatile memories (Quad SPI Flash, NAND Flash, NOR Flash, or SD). The system can also be configured via JTAG, just like any other device. Like all other FPGAs from Xilinx (this site’s sponsor), the Zynq uses a number of mode pins to determine crucial system settings like the type of memory where the program is stored. These mode pins share the multiuse input/output pins on the processor system side of the device. In all, there are seven mode pins mapped to MIO[8:2]. The first four define the boot mode. The fifth defines whether the PLL is used, and the other two define the voltages on MIO bank 0 and bank 1 during power-up.

The FSBL can change the voltage standard defined on MIO bank 0 and 1 to the correct standard. However, if you are designing a system from scratch, you must ensure that the voltage used during power-up cannot damage the device connected to these pins.

On the ZedBoards, these mode pins can be changed via jumpers to facilitate configuration from the SD, JTAG, or Quad SPI memories that are available.

In my next blog, I will explain how we use the tools to generate the first stage boot loader and then tie everything together to generate the file required to program the Zynq.