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Introducing Field Programmable Gate Arrays Into Sophomore Digital Circuits Course

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Digital System Design

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.832.1 - 11.832.7



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Paper Authors

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Sin Ming Loo Boise State University

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Arlen Planting Boise State University

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Matt Murdock Boise State University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Introducing Field-Programmable Gate Arrays into Sophomore Digital Circuits Course Abstract

In this paper, we describe our experiences in introducing Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) into our sophomore digital circuits course. We describe our findings, the techniques of preparing the laboratory and computer systems, and approaches taken to reduce the number of problems that can appear during laboratory sessions. The students are exposed to digital circuit design using discrete 74xx series components during the first four weeks of the semester. For the rest of the semester, all designs are targeted at FPGA. The use of 74xx series components has been kept in the laboratory for two reasons. First, a 74xx series component might be all that is needed for a simple design. Second, the concept of putting together a design utilizing multiple components (system-level design) can be introduced. Potentially, this encourages the students to optimize their designs so that wiring the digital circuit is easier.

Our findings through this introduction have all been positive. Students are eager to learn the industrial strength tool (Xilinx ISE or Altera Quartus II) while using the FPGA to prototype designs. Due to the complexity of learning the design tools, we developed multiple step-by-step tutorials so that students can learn the basic features on their own. Advanced software features are introduced during lecture or laboratory sessions. Our experiences have shown that during the laboratory sessions while using FPGA, the students do not have to worry about the status of discrete components, prototyping boards, and wiring integrity. Instead, they think about whether they have designed their circuits correctly.

One potential problem for the introduction of this type of computer-aided design tool is the age of the computer systems. We have found that any computer system more than three years old will introduce many problems in the laboratory. This is because the CAD tools are processor and memory intensive. Older computer systems have difficulties satisfying what is required by the CAD tools.

1 Introduction Teaching a sophomore digital systems course using just basic discrete transistor-transistor logic (TTL) components is no longer a viable and productive option [1-6]. In this case, the pace of technology should dictate what is being taught in the classroom and used in the laboratory, such that students emerging from the course will find the knowledge and skills learned to be useful in the upper division courses and those completing the degree program will be more qualified to obtained advanced careers. One may argue that the use of discrete components and wiring skills learned are highly important and desirable in the real- world engineering environment. However, such skills are usually not the concentration of any four-year degree program. It is strength in design capability and design debugging that makes a good engineer, not prototype wiring. The use of discrete components in real-world engineering problems is very limited. If such use is so limited, should this be the only technology used in the students’ learning environment?

One solution to this dilemma is using a combination of mature technology and the latest technology in the learning laboratory. The truth is that basic TTL components are wonderful tools for introducing digital logics principles to those who are new to this field (TTL components are so inexpensive!). The simple connections to power and ground provide insight into getting components to operate. This mature technology should remain as an introduction to the curriculum. The challenge is introducing the new technology into the curriculum.


Loo, S. M., & Planting, A., & Murdock, M. (2006, June), Introducing Field Programmable Gate Arrays Into Sophomore Digital Circuits Course Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--167

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