Posts Tagged ‘VHDL’

SDRAM panic

January 31st, 2011 No comments

Today I continued with my FPGA-DMX controller project. I already made good progress as you could have read in my previous post. The next challenge was to get the SDRAM up and running. The Altera DE2 board, which I use for this project, has also 512K of SRAM which is much faster than DRAM. The SRAM already works but is too small to hold my light control data. The SDRAM on the DE2 board is 8MB, which should be sufficient. After finishing my application logic using the SDRAM the next step is to use Flash or SD-card as memory for the light controller data.

Sounds all very exciting, but first I had to make sure the SDRAM does actually work. After some reading about the IP-CORE SDRAM controller and the chip itself I wrote a small test setup containing a NIOS2 core and a PLL for the clock phase conversion. The PLL was set at -54 degrees, which should result in a 3ns delay on the system clock. In another (lost the link) manual I found out that it is safer to put your normal clock also through the PLL module with just a 0 degree phase shift. This is because the PLL it selves also takes some time which can result in wrong phase shift.

The picture above shows the NIOS system and the PLL. Next step is to write an application to test the SDRAM. Write data to the SDRAM and read it back. report data mismatches to an error counter. This sounds pretty easy. Setting up this code was indeed. See the example below:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include "system.h"
#include "alt_types.h"
#include "altera_avalon_pio_regs.h"

/* Memory constants */
#define SDRAM_MAX_WORDS 100000

alt_u32 test_sdram( void ) {
	alt_u32 i;
	alt_u32 errors = 0;
	alt_u32 *buffer = (alt_u32 *)SDRAM_BASE;
	/* Write data to SDRAM */
	for( i = 0; i < SDRAM_MAX_WORDS; i++ ) {
		printf("SET row: %d\n", i);
		buffer[i] = i + 1000000;
	/* Check output from SDRAM */
	for( i = 0; i < SDRAM_MAX_WORDS; i++ ) {
		printf("GET row: %d\n", i);

		if( buffer[i] != (i+1000000) )
	return( errors );

int main( void ) {
	alt_u32 ret_val;
	printf( "Welcome...\n" );
	printf("Testing SDRAM\n" );

	ret_val = test_sdram();
	printf("...Completed with %d Errors.\n", ret_val );


When I ran this code on my NIOS system the console started printing… But at the 42’th SET action the complete system crashed. I made several modifications in my NIOS core, changed the phase shift, used different NIOS core types etc. Nothing worked. After several hours I almost gave up. One last thing to check. The software uses a generated BSP (Board Support Package). In this package are also the memory mappings for several areas of the NIOS system defined. I found out, the BSP standard uses SDRAM for these memory areas.

Overwriting the memory sections used by the system results in instant system failure. Doh… After changing these areas to the SRAM the read/write test finished successfully :D.

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Categories: Electronica, Technologie Tags: , , , , , , ,

DMX lightcontrol using FPGA and RS-232 to DMX converter (part 1)

January 24th, 2011 1 comment

My last big project before I can start with my graduation internship is a DMX light controller using an FPGA and a RS-232 to DMX converter. I’m using the Altera DE2 development and education board containing a CycloneII FPGA. Combined with a DMX4ALL DMX player XS and a set of 4 RGB LED PAR’s this should become a nice system to demonstrate RS-232 communication on the DE2 board.

The core of the system will be a NIOS II processor. This gives me the opportunity to write C or C++ code for my program logic. Setting up the basics like the core NIOS II and a simple test program should be very simple according to several online university tutorials. Unfortunately, it took me longer than I expected. The standard pin assignment file for the DE2 board differs in naming for some DRAM pins compared with the naming used by the SOPC builder. There was also a bug in the Eclipse based software developer tool. After a lot of browsing through manuals and forums, some debugging and testing I finally managed to get the core system up and running.

I have uploaded an edited pin assignment file containing the DRAM pin modifications for the DE2 board and NIOSII. You can download this CSV file here. Two very clear and helpful tutorials can be found on the McMaster University website. The tutorials I have used are nios2-1 (mirror) and nios2-2 (mirror).

Now I could start with the fun part. Programming a simple test to send data over the RS-232 port. I managed to communicate with a laptop. But the DMX converter wouldn’t respond to the commands I sent. What could that be. Putty received the commands perfectly. Doh, of course. Most serial communication systems involve a TX and a RX signal. So does RS-232. What I need is a cross cable. I still don’t know why the communication with the laptop worked without a cross cable. The laptop probably has some sort of switching mechanism, like most of the ethernet connectors currently have. Transmitting data over RS-232 is very easy. It involves just a small piece of C code:

void UART1_T(unsigned char ch){
  while((IORD_ALTERA_AVALON_UART_STATUS(RS232_BASE) & 0x040) != 0x040){ ;}

Anyway, using a cross cable the converter finally responded to my commands. I wrote a small test program which changes the color of one RGB light. See the video below. When I continue on this project I will add links to the used manuals and add the code I used for my tests. That’s done.

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