Electronic Design

My E-mail Ate My Homework

I’m becoming more forgetful these days— or rather my e-mail is (Fig. 1). Like many of you, I work for a company that limits the lifetime of e-mail. At first, this seems reasonable. It saves space, even though hard-disk prices per terabyte are falling faster than a fully populated NAS box. It’s also a great way to eliminate evidence.

This policy has some unintended consequences, though, for those like me who use e-mail as a historical database. I do delete most of my mail, but I also have a massive folder tree to organize all this information. I used to have years worth of old e-mails. Storage isn’t an issue if you have a terabyte handy.

Yet this is for naught when things start to slowly disappear. For many people this is a good thing, but for me it’s a nightmare. Forwarding or storing e-mails is a royal pain. Some organizations even prevent such solutions. We use Outlook, and its feature to store folders on a local drive has been disabled.

This wonderful policy came home to roost for me while I was finalizing a report on Xilinx’s XtremeDSP Video Starter Kit Spartan-3A DSP Edition (Fig. 2). I’ve had this kit for ages, and it has been updated a number of times. I’ll review the kit for a Lab Bench Online article that should be out soon.

A number of the updates were sent via e-mail. Still, it’s easier to take a look in my e-mail folder for the latest attachment, but that’s not longer available. Luckily, the updates are now online. But finding all the materials in one zip file, courtesy of a helpful product manager, was a bit more involved.

Video processing is an ideal app for FPGAs, and Xilinx now has versions of the kit that address different chips. All share a common software package. This integrated package of applications and sample filters and designs makes a difference. Doing the integration alone would take the average developer weeks.

What’s significant about the kits is the way they allow integration of FPGA intellectual property (IP) within a video processing stream as well as support for the soft-core MicroBlaze processor. This enables developers to mix and match software-based video processing with hardware-based acceleration.

This may sound simple, but keep in mind that the source of some IP may be the Mathworks’ Matlab. The kit and tutorials utilize evaluation versions of software like Matlab with timeouts. Hopefully, you can determine if the platform is suitable for purchase within this timeframe. My guess is that it will be.

I was very impressed with the ease that changes could be incorporated into the sample framework. It actually took longer to install all the software, including Matlab and Xilinx’s ISE Foundation FPGA integrated development environment (IDE), along with Xilinx’s EDK (Embedded Development Kit) for MicroBlaze work.

I was already familiar with ISE, EDK, and Matlab, but I know I would be lost if I had to make them all work together without having the tutorials provided by Xilinx. Likewise, it is an approach that is viable for developers who specialize in video analysis even if they are new to FPGAs. It is possible to be up and running within a day and generating useful designs within a week. That is a very impressive feat.

Drop me an e-mail if you have tried the kit. I’m always looking to see if your feedback matches my experiences. Of course, if I forget you six months after your last e-mail, you’ll know why. I guess it’s time to go back to hard copy.



TAGS: Digital ICs
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