Tools and flow problems

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saar drimer

May 26, 2014, 8:48:06 AM5/26/14
Hello everyone.

I'd like to address one of the most problematic issues with running a workshop like ChipHack: setting up the flow.

For the workshop, I had assumed that everyone has already installed the tools, downloaded the example code and run it as preparation for the workshop. That meant that people would have set up their environment and did set up a project with the example code in the repo, and run it once.

Some attendees needed help debugging their environment during the workshop, which is way beyond what we can provide in terms of support and knowledge. I fully believe in having people work in the environment of their choice, but that's something that's outside the scope of the workshop, unfortunately. That includes licensing issues and getting the USB working.

Although I have not seen what has been communicated to attendees, it is our fault for not making the requirement for having set up a project ahead of the workshop very clear. We will do better next time. That mismatch of expectation, on top of none of us having much experience with the Quartus GUI tools, contributed to much frustration, and I'm sorry for that. It was never really the purpose of the workshop to provide this kind of instruction -- there are plenty of resources for setting up projects online -- but, rather, teach the basics of FPGA design in as generic terms as possible so you'd be able to use whichever tools or FPGAs.

All that said, fighting EDA tools is part of FPGA design, unfortunately. EDA tools are notorious for their poor usability, and they keep changing with every version so it's hard to keep track and maintain a usable guide. Personally, I never use the GUI of FPGA EDA tools, and that's something that we should consider for next time, as these GUIs are just asking for trouble ;)

Still, I'm sure that all attendees got through enough to be able to continue productive work!

All the best,


Andrew Back

May 27, 2014, 5:12:21 AM5/27/14
to saar drimer,
On 26 May 2014 13:48, saar drimer <> wrote:

> Although I have not seen what has been communicated to attendees, it is our
> fault for not making the requirement for having set up a project ahead of
> the workshop very clear.

The registration page does say "The Quartus II Web Edition software
should be installed in advance." And an e-mail went out to those
registered with, "Just to remind you that you should download and
install the Altera Quartus II Web Edition software in advance of the
workshop. Also, we recommend that you join the Google Group so that
you can join in the discussion and we can answer any questions you may
have." That said, I think we need to use stronger words in future!

While they are subject to change from one release to another, we
should probably also run through installing the tools on various
platforms and capture helpful notes on the wiki. With the test for
success being able to simulate, build and program a simple project.

To those who persevered with tools installation, thanks for sticking
with it, and many thanks of course to those who helped out!



Andrew Back

Simon Sarginson

May 29, 2014, 5:26:04 PM5/29/14

Just to elaborate, my problem (and I think the most common problem) was that the simulation tool for Altera did not work, while Altera itself was fine. The problem with simulation tool turned out to be unsolvable for Ubuntu which the software itself misdiagnosed as a licensing problem, the tool had fundamental comparability problems with Ubuntu 14 64 bit (and possibly 32 bit as well) as one of the underlying libraries integrated into Ubuntu was too new as some of the other participants rooted out. GTKWave was a fine alternative and when I saw the sim tool running on a CentOS machine looked a good deal beginner friendly as well. So for next time I would agree that going GUI-less is preferable especially since GTKWave so simple to get up and running.

Having said all this I would also like to add that even though it is a shame to have to spend the limited time available in a weekend on something as technically uninteresting as tools, it is not a waste of time. I have found in the past that actually getting the tools and programming environment setup right are some of the most frustrating things to deal with as a new comer to language / system and the point at which people are most likely to walk away from it all together. So I suspect helping people along in this regard is hugely beneficial and I think will increase the rate of people actually making projects within this new environment.

Thanks again for all the assistance,
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