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Sorry for the very abstract and uncertain question, but I guess if I could ask it better I would have answered it myself. Here is the thing.

I am getting more and more interested in FPGA. However, it is hard to tell where I should start off. What I want to do is to write a simple application that listens to UDP packets and sends TCP/IP packets. So I think something like Xinix Virtex®-7 FPGA will work for me as FPGA. How does that sound?

I will also need a PCI card that will host it with Ethernet card on it. Obviously I am not that good in hardware on that level and won't make it myself. Are there any out of the box solutions?

Also, I guess there must be a core for working with Ethernet adapter already. Am I right on that? Where should I look? Is there anything with interface close to POSIX sockets?

What is the best software kit I will need to achieve that?

Thank you!

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Xinix Virtex®-7 FPGA is monster and completely unnecessary as starter board. Keep in mind that regardless of what chip you purchase you still need the tool chain to develop anything. An evaluation kit will run you close to $1800 for virtex 7. Also, building a piece of hardware that handles network traffic is non-trivial and therefore not even close to good choice for a beginners project. – Pemdas Apr 29 '11 at 19:39
An Avnet Spartan-6 LX9 MicroBoard is only $100 and should keep you busy for long time. – Pemdas Apr 29 '11 at 19:45
You might want to ask this question on the Electronics Design Stack Exchange site -- there are a number of FPGA experts there. – tcrosley Apr 29 '11 at 23:03
Thanks guys! I will take a look at Spartan one. I am just a bit afraid that if I learn to do stuff on that simple thing, will I be limited in something? Will I later be able to port it over to a good expensive solution? Just don't want to, you know, like write for old PowerPC processor in assembler and then realize that I need to port it over to Intel's Xeon... :) – user11408 Apr 30 '11 at 0:01
I'd recommend reading Circuit Cellar Ink magazine as that is some of what you're looking for. – Tangurena Apr 30 '11 at 3:56
up vote 1 down vote accepted

If you are just a FPGA beginner then I am not sure why you need something like Virtex.

The easiest way to learn how to use FPGA is to create a small design, say a multiplier or something like that, and then use the FPGA software to go all the way to hardware.

At the end of the whole design flow, you have a bitstream file which is pumped into the FPGA device thus configuring it in a way you want it to.

FPGA companies provide you with the software you need to achieve this. There are 3rd party tools like Synplicity etc, but for a starter I don't think that's necessary. FPGA software also usually has a catalog of IP that you can easily incorporate into your design without much thinking.

In your specific case, ask the vendor for the IPs that you are looking for.

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You should be aware that you are biting off a lot - writing a network stack is not a trivial exercise (not that you shouldn't try it - you'll learn a lot).

Googling some of the terms in your post, I found the "Xilinx Virtex-7 FPGA VC707 Evaluation Kit" - this seems to have everything you are after (and the kitchen sink besides!). It has PCIE to connect to your PC, ethernet (up to 1000mhz), 1gb of ram, and everything else you could want. It will set you back US$3,500.

If (like me) your budget doesn't include $3,500, and if (like me) you are just starting out, then maybe something like a Papilio would be more suitable - there are ethernet "wings" (plugin boards), and I suspect you are going to get much better (community) support for these. I got mine for US$50 for a 250k gate Papilio, delivered from AliExpress, and have spent a couple of nights hacking, learning etc. - depending on your soldering skills, you might be able to hack together a network "card" for next to nothing, just an optoisolator, a socket and some veroboard? and do the heavy lifting on the fpga. I have no idea how difficult this would be, or if it would work. I don't see why not. If anyone knows, post a comment below :)

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