Tag: Electronics

Enough with the guesswork, I got Logic

I just got a shiny new Logic, a tiny 8-channel, 24 MHz logic analyzer from Saleae LLC, and it is beautiful. I’ve been wanting to get a logic analyzer for quite some time and this little guy is definitely worth the 150 bucks it costs.

Logic Unboxing
Logic Unboxing

Logic Analyzer?

(skip this if you already know what a logic analyzer is and do not want to be bored to death)

A logic analyzer is a measurement instrument that allows you to record the logic level (e.g. high or low) of a digital signal throughout time. This means that if you are working with a micro-controller and want to know what is actually happening at the pins, you can use a logic analyzer to record the signals of interest and display them on a time-line on a computer screen. This is very convenient considering that debugging microcontrollers often implies guessing or using lame techniques such as slowing down the execution time and lighting up LEDs in order to see what the program is doing.

In short, a logic analyzer allows you to view digital signals and plot them with respect to time.

Casing

The Logic, by Saleae
The Logic, by Saleae

The Logic has a nice square anodized aluminum body which makes it very sturdy and looks awesome. It is very small (~ 4.5 cm on the side and ~ 0.7 cm high) and features some male headers on the front side and a mini USB port type B on the back. For some reason, I really like the four tiny hex screws that hold together the two aluminum plates that make the body.

Accessories

Cabels & Hooks
Wires & Hooks

The Logic comes in a nice Logic Case, usually intended for some other electronics such as external hard drives I suppose, that can accommodate itself  and its USB cable, its set of wires and the E-Z-hook clips.

What I enjoy the most is that the wires are robust and kink-proof, and they are terminated in female headers, which makes them very easy to use in breadboards and on male pins in general. Also, the hooks are removable and they can connect to harder-to-access pins in a secure way. The wire colour coding follows the resistor colour coding (i.e. Channel 0 is black, channel 1 is brown, etc) and this might be a bit confusing at the beginning since the Ground wire is grey instead of being the usual black.

Finally, the carrying case is a very nice feature since it allows you to have the Logic and all the related items in one single place. The case is a bit too big, but I the extra space could be used to store some extra accessories, such as headers gender-changers (for plugging into female headers) or wire extensions with special ports (e.g. DB-9, RJ-45). I also enjoy the fact that all the components come in their own little zipper-bag that allows you to store the unit in a nice pristine condition (it may not seem like it, but I like to preserve things in their original state, unless they come from the garbage in which case I mod them and unscrupulously use their pieces).

Hardware

I did not want to take the Logic apart in order to see its guts (so far) so I do not have too many details about the hardware other than what is listed in Saleae’s website: (1)the inputs are protected to you don’t fry anything, (2) it can sample at 24 MHz,  and (3) it is able to store up to 500 M samples.

Software

The software can be downloaded for free (and used in demo mode) looks really nice but unfortunately, the current stable version works only under the Redmond OS and it does not play very well with Wine in Linux or in my XP virtual machine. I would have really liked to test its Protocol Analyzers, a function that automatically sets the names of the signals and decodes the information accordingly to the protocol being analyzed (e.g. I2C, RS232, SPI, 1-Wire).

Anyways, there is an upcoming cross-platform version of the software that looks very promising and is currently under private beta at the moment. Of course, I could not resist the urge to join the beta testing and I can say that the new software is working very nicely (so far, I have not tested it extensively yet) under my 64-bit Kubuntu setup.

Needless to say, as soon as the software goes public, I will post a more thorough review, so keep posted.

Conclusion

The Logic is a very nice piece of equipment for any hobbyist or professional (provided you do not require to read signals faster than 24 MHz, which is rare specially while debugging). It is built to last fits very nicely in a hacker’s toolbox (or even pocket). I would recommend the Logic to anyone needing a sturdy and easy-to-use Logic analyzer, and I will be using it in my upcoming projects.

Carlitos 1, Xilinx 0

Xilinx Spartan
Xilinx Spartan

I spent countless hours trying to install the free version of the Xilinx software on may windoze Virtual machine and I have finally succeed.

I must say that although I have never used Xilinx ISE Webpack, store I already hate it. It come in a huge installation archive (2.7 GB) and an equally huge update archive (2.4 GB). The option to use the “slim” installer (88 MB) is worthless since there is no ways of saving the required files for an eventual reinstallation (which was needed twice in my case).

Anyway, here after installing/uninstalling/installing many times I finally got it to work. And this very lengthy and painful process reminded me why the Open Source world is so much more convenient. Installing a full linux distribution with tons of extra programs takes half the required storage and a third of the time. Too bad FPGA programming tools are ruled by the chip manufacturers.

All this painful process was required in order to get my new NanoBoard 3000 running. Hopefully I wont have to use Xilinx ISE anytime soon. Altium Designer was much easier to install and requires less storage.

I am the luckiest Engineer ever

A few weeks ago, I received a very pleasant message: Altium, an FPGA development board manufacturer and IDE developer, contacted me asking If I wanted to try the (excessively cool) brand new development board (the NanoBoard 3000) for free.  Of course, I immediately (and quite emphatically) said YES.

The Altium NanoBoard 3000
The Altium NanoBoard 3000

Now that I got it, I’m dying to have some spear time in order to try out their awesome board with their quite intriguing IDE.

About the Hardware

The NanoBoard 3000 is a beautiful piece of equipment. It boasts lots of cool peripherals and is built and packed as a luxury electronics product. It is a very good looking piece of equipment while remaining perfectly functional, it beats by far all the other development boards I am familiar with (i.e. the Altera DE2 board and the Lattice Mico32 development board) while remaining much cheaper (around 50% of their price).

NanoBoard 3000 Unboxing
NanoBoard 3000 Unboxing

Features

Here is a selection of the NanoBoard’s features from Altium’s Wiki I find most prominent:

  • A Xilinx Spartan-3AN device (XC3S1400AN-4FGG676C)

    Nanoboard 3000 Front
    Nanoboard 3000 Front
  • 4 Serial SPI Flash memory devices
  • Programmable clock 6 to 200 MHz, accessible by Altium Designer or by an FPGA design
  • SPI Real-Time Clock with 3V battery backup
  • Adjustable voltage regulators set to generate 1.2V, 1.8V, 2.5V and 3.3V power
  • 256K x 32-bit common-bus SRAM (1MB)
  • 16M x 32-bit common-bus SDRAM (64MB)
  • 8M x 16-bit common-bus 3.0V Page Mode Flash memory (16MB)
  • Dual 256K x 16-bit independent SRAM (512KB each)
  • 256K x 16-bit independent SRAM (512KB)
  • 8 RGB LEDS
  • 5 generic push-button switches
  • 4-channel 8-bit ADC, SPI-compatible
  • 4-channel 8-bit DAC, SPI-compatible
  • 4x isolated IM Relay channels
  • 4x PWM power drivers
  • Screw terminal headers for ADC/DAC/Relay/PWM interfaces
  • SD (Secure Digital) card readers:
    • One for use by the Host Controller FPGA
    • One for use by the User FPGA
  • SVGA interface (24-bit, 80MHz)

    NanoBoard 3000 Back
    NanoBoard 3000 Back
  • 10/100 Fast Ethernet interface
  • USB 2.0 High-Speed interface
  • RS-232 Serial Port – DB9M
  • RS-485 Serial Port – ‘RJ45’
  • 240 x 320 TFT LCD with touch screen
  • 8-way DIP-switch
  • Stereo 2W audio power amplifier with 3.5mm test input jack and DC volume control
  • 24-bit Stereo Audio CODEC with I2S-compatible interface
  • Stereo audio jacks (3.5mm):
    • Line In / Line Out
    • Headphones
  • Speakers on a separate (attached) board
  • MIDI interface
  • Diagnostics interface – PCI Express (PCIe) edge connector for connection of automated test equipment (ATE)
  • 1.8″ ATA/IDE connector providing access to user LED and generic switch I/O
  • Remote Control and IR interface.

I should post some further details and perhaps even a simple test project soon (as soon as I get Altium Designer and Xilinx ISE installed and running)