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Jul 18

Altium NanoBoard 3000

The Nanoboard 3000 is a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) development board that is packed full of peripherals and features.  The hardware layout is really top notch and includes USB, VGA, audio amplifiers, MIDI ports, speakers, a TFT touch screen, an IR remote, and much much more.  A one year license to Altium Designer is also included with the board.  This provides access to Altium’s library of schematic tools as well as pre-built interfaces for all of the on board peripherals.  Altium Designer allows for the creation of complicated FPGA designs complete with graphical interfaces all without writing a single line of VHDL.  While Altium Designer is powerful, it’s also my biggest complaint about the package so far.  After a year your license drops dead and there’s no hobbyist friendly renewal option.  You have to purchase the full corporate license or abandon Altium Designer and program all of your designs using a JTAG adapter.

For now my plan is to learn VHDL (Which was my original intent before stumbling across the nanoboard and instantly becoming entitled) while using Altium Designer as a first attempt or supplementary design tool.  I think my first major project will be to emulate an NES using the nanoboard hardware.  This isn’t a trivial goal for someone who has never worked with FPGA’s before.  However, I’ve had success emulating the Game boy system using the Android SDK and find the whole concept of hardware emulation fascinating so this should be a fun and self-motivating project.

Step one is definitely not going to be ‘Create the NES’ and I plan on documenting all the smaller steps along the way to the final goal, both for myself and anyone else who finds the concept interesting.

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