From Gates to FPGA: Learning Digital Design with Deeds

Giuliano Donzellini and Domenico Ponta
DITEN-University of Genoa


The new technological scenarios in digital systems demand the introduction of FPGA very early in digital design curricula. The approach that we present in the paper is based on a new tool that extends the features of DEEDS, the design suite for digital circuits developed in our department. The tool, called "FPGA extension" allows students to compile a project, generated with DEEDS, into an FPGA chip, reducing to a minimum the interaction with the FPGA-specific CAD. The tool is centered around an expert module that allows the student to associate all the input and output of the DEEDS project to the devices and resources of an FPGA development board. A code generator will produce all the VHDL and script files needed by the CAD to compile the project and load it on the board for testing. Deeds FPGA extension ensures continuity between the classic, schematic entry based education and the new approach with HDL and FPGA and the re-targeting of a large amount of learning material. The field test of the FPGA extension has shown a flawless operation of the software and a very high level of acceptance and interest by students.