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Comes with all the hardware and software you need to quickly get your FPGA project going. Now you can focus on the real engineering. Read more

Washington, DC Hardware
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This project was successfully funded on July 13, 2014.

Comes with all the hardware and software you need to quickly get your FPGA project going. Now you can focus on the real engineering.

Washington, DC Hardware
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About this project

Stretch Goal: $65,000-Reached

For the $65K, we will upgrade our hardware again. Instead of using Spartan 6 LX9 with TQFP144 package we are going to use Spartan 6 LX9 with FBGA256.

What does this mean? It means more GPIOs. We will have around 64 GPIOs without any multiplexing. In addition to that we will have 8 LEDs, 4 Switches and 2 HDMI connectors.

3D model for miniSpartan6+ $65k stretch goal
3D model for miniSpartan6+ $65k stretch goal

Please check update#8 

Stretch Goal: $50,000- Reached

We reached our stretch goal of $30k and we will add all the upgrades we mentioned before.

For the $50K, we will upgrade our hardware again based on discussions with our backers.

We will keep 4 LEDs for debugging and add 2 Push-button Switches.

We will add additional an HDMI connector, which means the miniSpartan6+ will have 2 HDMI connectors. By default one of the connectors will be input and the other one will be output. The user can add/remove some resistors to configure any of the two connectors as input or output.

We will increase the number of available GPIOs by giving the user access to the IOs used in different circuits on the board.


Stretch Goal: $30,000 - Reached.

If we reach our stretch goal of $30,000, we will make some upgrades to the hardware, based on feedback from our backers.

A Faster Spartan 6 LX9: We will be able to ensure that we procure a faster version of the Spartan 6 LX9 chip, with speed grade -3. This increases the maximum I/O speed, the PLL speed, and the TMDS I/O. For example, the TMDS I/O will be increased, to throughput up to 1050 Mbps. With speed grade -3, you can potentially capture and output signals faster.

A higher resolution analog to digital converter: We will use a 12-bit analog to digital converter, with 8 channels, instead of the 8-bit one we had in the original design, so you can have higher resolution inputs for better quality.

Support for HDMI input and output: Our current HDMI port was designed to work as an HDMI output only, so we are going to redesign it, adding an EDID chip, so it can work as an HDMI input and output port. Now you will be able to process HDMI input.

Meet the miniSpartan6+ and the Scarab IDE:

When we came up with our board's design, we looked at what was available in other boards on the market and enhanced it.

Our kit is small, much smaller than the closest thing on the market,it's smaller than a credit card at only 1.8 in x 3.0 in. That means you can put it inside some pretty small projects. (Here's something to get you thinking, by 2025 the cost of putting one pound into space is expected to be just $100.)

And our kit is bread board friendly, so you can quickly connect it to a shield or to a bread board.

Now, there’s a handful of other broads with many of these features on the market, but our miniSpartan6+ costs around half of what its closest competitor does.

The miniSpartan6+:

  • The Spartan6 LX9 FPGA from Xilinx, one of the best FPGAs on the market.

  • An on-board USB JTAG Programmer to power and program your FPGA with any open source programmer, like the one inside our own Scarab IDE.  

  • An on board USB interface that powers the board and allows communication with the PC at speeds up to 480Mbps. (That's fast enough to make a logic analyzer. Check our website for updates on projects and tutorials).

  • An on-board HDMI port. Instead of using VGA output on your projects, now you can go HDMI.

  • An 8-channel analog to digital converter running at 1 MSPS with 8 bit resolution. So you can start connecting real world sensors to your FPGA kit.

  • Memory: 32MB of SDRAM, 64Mbit of SPI Flash and a microSD card interface.

  • A stereo audio output jack using 1-bit sigma-delta DAC to start playing your music.

  • 24 Digital I/O pins.

  • 8 LEDs.

A screenshot of the Scarab IDE.
A screenshot of the Scarab IDE.

The Scarab IDE:

We took existing IDEs in the embedded systems community, like the Mojo IDE, and improved on them, coming up with the Scarab IDE, an easy to use GUI that allows you to develop, compile, and download programs to your FPGA (through the on board USB JTAG Programmer) with the click of a button. The Scarab IDE only requires the Xilinix ISE Design Tool to be instlalled on your machine.

It comes with our well documented Verilog/VHDL libraries and .bit files to easily program the FPGA for common tasks. Need the HDMI output? Maybe a logic analyzer? It’s all there.

Of course, your project might be more complicated to build, but you can start with a solid foundation that lets you focus on the heart of the software, not on how the FPGA can talk to your TV.

And you are not locked into our Scarab IDE. You can use the Xilinx ISE Design Tool to program your miniSpartan6+. Also Scarab IDE can be used to program any Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA, no matter which kit it is a part of.

Why would you want an FPGA?

Because you want speed and flexibility.

You can divide the field of embedded systems into microcontroller based systems or FPGA systems.

Microcontroller kits - like the Arduino - have been more popular for a long time because they are easier to program -- you can write code in a familiar language like C++, and quickly talk to other hardware through whatever ports your board happens to come with. But microcontrollers have some big limitations: they are essentially small specialized computers that can only talk to the outside world in a few ways. They can't multitask, and are slow.

A Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) is like a digital circuit you can re-wire as many times as you like with the click of a button. FPGA's can be used to prototype a great idea for a device, or actually drive an amazing project you want to build. For applications where you want speed and full control over your hardware, you want an FPGA.

With an FPGA, you can program your logic gates into powerful blocks that can do different tasks at the same time. Even the microcontroller at the heart of the Arduino is easily emulated in an FPGA.

Here are a few projects you can make right away with the miniSpartan6+ and the Scarab IDE:

  • Logic Analyzer.

  • Multimedia Player.

  • Game Console Emulator.

  • Arduino Emulator.

  • Stereo Vision Camera.

What made us want to create the miniSpartan6+ and the Scarab IDE?

We believe it's time for the hackers community to get an easy to use FPGA kit. So we have put together a powerful, affordable hardware package, and are making available our own open source IDE to make programming a breeze.

We got our ideas from years of using FPGA's for commercial applications, and teaching engineering students about them.

On the hardware side, we wanted to make a powerful low-cost FPGA kit with the latest peripherals to let you build your project right away. The miniSpartan6+ is the third version of the board.

The first prototype, the second prototype, and the miniSpartan6+
The first prototype, the second prototype, and the miniSpartan6+

And we noticed how many hobbyists are put off by the complexity involved in programming FPGAs, so we took a cue from the microcontroller industry, which has advanced because of open source collaboration on the libraries driving kits like the Arduino.

There are many open source libraries for the FPGA, but they are not organized in a beginner-friendly way. So we came up with the Scarab IDE, which we hope will be the seed for fruitful collaboration between our users.

Our Scarab IDE comes chock full of the libraries you need -- everything from outputting HDMI video, to a complete logic analyzer -- to get your projects up and running with a few clicks.

Of course, we have documented those libraries well so you can hack them, and share what you come up with.

With room to grow, our kit is great for beginners and experts alike.

If you are an expert with FPGAs, the miniSartan6+ is perfect for your complex projects, and comes at an affordable price and in a small form factor.

If you are a beginner, you have everything you need to start a Hello World project. You even have 8 LEDs to play with. Of course, we hope you move on to more complicated projects, and with the miniSpartan6+ you will have plenty of room to grow.

The miniSpartan6+ layout.
The miniSpartan6+ layout.

A commitment to remaining open source

We are in the business of getting hardware into the hands of folks who can build on it, and make something that can make the world a more interesting place to live.

So everything about our product is open source.  The schematics, the source code, all the libraries for making our projects -- it's all going to available for you to download.

If we reach our stretch goal of $30,000, we will make some upgrades to the hardware, based on feedback from our backers.

A Faster Spartan 6 LX9:

We will be able to ensure that we procure a faster version of the Spartan 6 LX9 chip, with speed grade -3. This increases the maximum I/O speed, the PLL speed, and the TMDS I/O. For example, the TMDS I/O will be increased, to throughput up to 1050 Mbps. With speed grade -3, you can potentially capture and output signals faster.

A higher resolution analog to digital converter:

We will use a 12-bit analog to digital converter, with 8 channels, instead of the 8-bit one we had in the original design, so you can have higher resolution inputs for better quality.

Support for HDMI input and output:

Our current HDMI port was designed to work as an HDMI output only, so we are going to redesign it, adding an EDID chip, so it can work as an HDMI input and output port. Now you will be able to process HDMI input.

Risks and challenges

Making a handful of miniSpartan6+ boards is not difficult, scaling that to hundreds or thousands of boards, as we plan to do, though, is a different story.

Our normal production time is about two months. This includes around 3 weeks for the production of the PCBs, which we plan to have done outside the US. Another 3 weeks are expected to assemble the boards, which we will do in-house, unless we get a high enough volume of orders that we can have them done by someone else. Finally, we expect testing to take another 2 weeks, and this step we plan on doing ourselves, perhaps hiring some help if we have a high volume of boards. In any case, testing will be done under our supervision, because we want to make sure you are getting a quality piece of hardware that functions as promised.

For the reward levels where we are shipping out the boards to you early, we will do all the assembly and testing in-house, within a month.

Some components, especially if ordered in bulk, can have lead times upwards of 6 weeks, so we might need to revise our timeline if we get a very high number of orders. There are also some delays possible from international shipping, but we will plan ahead to try and make sure this does not happen.

And if problems arise with the component purchase, the assembly, shipping -- anything -- we will be sure to update you, our backers, first.

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