UK trainers get best from Altera and Xilinx FPGAsRichard Ball Four courses in programmable logic design and synthesis were announced this week by Esperan, the UK training firm. The courses aim to teach people how to get the best out of Altera and Xilinx FPGAs. Different classes of designer are targeted, including those already designing with FPGAs, who are switching from schematic capture to HDLs and synthesis. Another group is Asic users who find that programmable logic is now large enough and cost effective for their designs. This shift is threatening to become a flood because of the way FPGA sizes have increased and prices have come down recently. The transition is very apparent, said Esperan director Antony Dennis; “Our current estimate is that 80 per cent of the attendees on our courses will design a PLD or FPGA. It used to be almost entirely Asic designers.” But budding FPGA designers face some specific issues. Programmable logic has a coarser structure than an Asic. To get the required functionality, the designer may have to use some architectural features of the device. “The key thing is that the designer has to understand the underlying architecture of the programmable device,” said Dennis. Thus the first two courses from Esperan are device workshops, looking at either the Xilinx FPGAs or Altera FLEX chips. “These are intended for people new to these devices and are appropriate whether using schematic capture or synthesis.” For designers who already understand the devices and have VHDL knowledge, Esperan has its VHDL and synthesis workshops. “The idea here is to take people who already know VHDL and the devices but aren’t clear how to make best use of the features,” Dennis said. The course is 75 per cent hands on. “We use a real world 8,000 gate design with all the common building blocks,” Dennis said. An important part of the course is manipulating the code and tools to get the smallest, fastest implementation. All four of the two day courses, two each for Altera and Xilinx, start in September and will run near Esperan’s base in Wiltshire or at a company’s own premises.