Electronic Design
External FPGA Module Uses PCI Express Host Link

External FPGA Module Uses PCI Express Host Link

Adding an FPGA to a system is not always an easy task. Even interfacing to a host can be challenging but Opal Kelly has been helping designers for years starting with their USB-based XEM FPGA modules. The XEM16110 module takes this external FPGA approach and utilizes a x1 PCI Express link(Fig. 1) instead of USB. It also bumps up Xilinx food chain to the latest Spartan-6 FPGA. The XEM modules (Fig. 2) are plug-compatible.

The module approach that Opal Kelly takes has a number of advantages. First, it is provides access to an FPGA's power and performance with a more minimal design and learning curve than dealing with an FPGA development kit to eventually create an final product. Second, the software interface is significantly easier to deal with and more on par with a development kit. The difference is an Opal Kelly module will likely be the final delivery mechanism although they are also handy for prototyping.

The Opal Kelly XEM6110 is a compact, 75mm by 50mm FPGA module (Fig. 3). The module has 128 Mbytes of DDR2 SDRAM and a low-jitter 100 MHz clock. There is also a high-efficiency switching power supply. A pair of high-density 0.8mm expansion connectors provide access to the I/O pins. The form factor and expansion connectors match the footprint of the XEM3010 and XEM3050 USB-based Opal Kelly modules. This allows an easy upgrade to a higher performance FPGA and remote interface.

Opal Kelly provides a FrontPanel appplication tool in addition to a host API and simluation libraries for the modules. The API is available for C++, Python, and Java. A DLL allows the modules to work with a variety of 3rd party tools including Matlab and LabVIEW.

Pricing starts at $995 for the starter kit (Fig. 4) that includes a 3m cable PCI Express cable and adapter card. The latter plugs into a x1 PCI Express slot in a PC. Pricing for the USB-based XEM3010 starts at $399.

TAGS: Digital ICs
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