Zoom inside the FPGA
By Vincent Rivière

You know that the FireBee has two main chips: The ColdFire (detailed in previous "Zoom inside" article), and the FPGA. Today we are going to show you how much familiar components live in the FPGA, and how this is possible.

FPGA means "Field-programmable gate array". It is an electronic component containing many logical gates, reprogrammable at will, using the VHDL programming language. This way, it is possible to implement very complex well-known chips simply by reconfiguring the FPGA. This technique is extremely powerful, for example the Suska project is able to implement the whole ST hardware on an FPGA.

On the FireBee board, we have an Altera Cyclone III FPGA. It is a very powerful chip, containing about 40000 logic elements. Most of the pins of the many FireBee connectors are directly connected to it. As a result, the behavior of the FireBee hardware can be adjusted simply by reconfiguring the FPGA. This operation can be done via software.

The FireBee board is built using only modern electronic components. All the classic Atari components are implemented inside the FPGA, just like real Falcon hardware. Many FPGA virtual components of the FireBee come from the Suska project, while others (such as VIDEL) are new ones.


- VIDEL: The famous Falcon graphics chip.

- DMA disk: The chip used for Floppy and ACSI data transfers.

- MC68901 MFP: Interrupt controller, timers, I/O ports...

- WD1772 FDC: The Floppy Disk Controller, including support for HD floppies.

- ACIA 6850 IKBD: Interface to keyboard/mouse/joysticks.

- ACIA 6850 MIDI: Interface to external MIDI devices.

- YM2149: The well known ST sound chip.

- NVRAM: Falcon real time clock and non-volatile memory.

- DMA Sound: STe DMA sound chip.

- IDE: Standard Falcon IDE interface, for IDE hard disks and CompactFlash cards.

- JTAG: Not really a device, but a physical interface to connect hardware debuggers.

You may have noticed that some standard Falcon hardware is missing: Blitter, DSP 56001... They can appear on the FireBee as soon as someone implements them using VHDL.

And of course, the FPGA is not limited to Atari hardware. It could be used to implement any kind of hardware, already existing chips or custom ones. Combined with the ColdFire power, this makes the FireBee a choice platform for hardware hackers.

You can get more information about the Cyclone III on Altera's website.
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