Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Test setup

I've been giving some thought to the best development platform for Titan. I'm trying to optimize several criteria at the same time:

  • Low cost
    • While this seems self-evident, I'm not purely interested in cheap. I could always find a cheap PC with a PCI Express (PCIe) slot and use it. I'm looking for an inexpensive platform that also meets my other needs:
  • Repeatability
    • I'd like to find a platform that I can replicate in a hurry. The idea here is for Kevin and I to have similar setups that can be built up quickly and that we can share easily.
  • Accessibility
    • Accessibility is all about sharing. If I can create a common test platform that Kevin and I are both familiar with we will end up spending less time configuring test systems and more time developing HDL and hardware.
  • Future Development Modeling
    • I'm also interested in using test platforms that may model future FPGA/CPU pairings that show promise. This leads me to consider non-Intel platforms.
  • Easy to Use with Linux

Usually I end up using one PC with my UUT (PCIe express card that I'm testing) and another PC with the JTAG programmer and other GUI based development tools. 

For Titan I'm considering moving to an environment where a small, low-cost platform is used to provide the PCIe link to Titan as well as the USB ports for any development tools that I need (JTAG programmer, logic analyzer, etc.). The plan is to use the USB/IP open source project to share the USB ports from the PCIe host platform to a my laptop (or Kevin's) where I can run the GUI based Lattice Diamond or SaleAE logic analyzer software. Figure 1 shows this idea.

Figure 1. Titan Development Configuration Idea.

I'll have to do some testing with USB/IP to see how practical this is, but I'm confident enough that I went ahead and ordered some hardware:
  • SolidRun HummingBoard-i2eX
    • $119.00 with AC power supply and 8GB micro-SD card.
  • Bplus PM2 PCI-E / Mini PCI-E adapter
    • $40. This is a little pricey and seems like a negative at first. I looked for a simple ARM-based processor board few low-cost options had PCIe slots (most had mini-PCIe like the Hummingboard). My long term plan is to build my own mini-PCIe to PCIe adapter with a GPIO input capable of power cycling Titan.

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