Getting Started with CPLDs – Part 1

cpldjHere at the Hackshed, we’ve recently purchased a CPLD board based around the Altera Max II EPM240 chip. The board we ordered is a cheap LC Tech product from Ali Express. On reflection, perhaps we should have ordered a better board from a well known company as our board came with no documentation of any sort.

In this article, I’m going to explain the steps involved with getting the Altera Quartus II development software installed onto a Windows PC. Xilinx chips use a different development studio which we won’t be discussing in this article.

qselectFirst we need to head over to the Altera website and download the Quartus II web edition software, this is the free version. You can find the page here. In the middle of the page, you will see the options box shown to the right. I’ve left the default selection to include all available files but it’s a large download so feel free to un-select any devices you don’t have. Just above it is an option to use the Akamai download manager or direct download. When you’ve made your selection, click the “Download Selected Files” button.

The next page will ask you to enter your account details or create a new Altera account. Once you’ve signed in, the download manager will download several files for you. Unless you have a fast internet connection, now is the time to go and make a cup of tea/coffee, grab a beer, walk the dog, enjoy a long relaxing walk on the beach…….. you get the idea.

Once the files have downloaded, you will have a folder with several files inside. Double click the QuartusSetupWeb-13.xxxxx file. Click “next” to the first screen and then accept the license agreement shown on the following screen. The next screen asks you where you’d like to install the software to, I just left it as default.

cap2On the following screen, you are asked which features you’d like to install. I left all the main features ticked but un-ticked the devices I don’t have. You could always add them at this point if you plan on getting different chips later on. As you can see in the image to the left, I’ve only selected the MAX-II/V option for this install. Click next again (maybe twice) and the installer should start working it’s magic.


Once it’s finished installing, another little window will open with more options. One asks if you’d like to create a Desktop shortcut (I left this ticked) and the one below it asks if you’d like to run the software. I unticked the second box because I wanted to install the update. Next you will want to run the update file that you downloaded earlier. Again, a few “Next” clicks and then it will ask for the Quartus II installation folder. If you left it as default it should already know the path. Keep clicking “Next” until it’s done.

firstrunNow you’ve got that out of the way, you can double click the new desktop icon. Yet another dialogue box will appear giving you several options. You should select the second option as shown here.

After that, the main Quartus II window will appear and you’re ready to go!

In part 2,  I’ll show you around the interface a bit and we’ll get some LEDs lit.


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2 thoughts on “Getting Started with CPLDs – Part 1

  1. You mentioned you would buy a different board; realizing you haven’t used one to recommend it can you recommend a “known” manufactures board or two for someone looking to try this out?

    • Hi Chas
      At first I was a little put-off by this board as it came with no documentation whatsoever. Now I’ve had a chance to play with it and get used to it, it’s perfectly fine for my needs.
      If you’re looking to buy something cheap, a similar one to mine will be fine, especially now you have these guides to help you out.
      If you’d like to spend a little more money, you can find plenty of “branded” boards that I would imagine come with more documentation to get you started.
      It’s really a matter of how much you’d like to spend.
      I also chose an Altera chip instead of a Xilinx chip as the programmer is cheaper for the Altera “(well, a cheap chinese knock-off is).
      I do like the look of the Papilio FPGA boards but it’s quite a lot of cash to spend on something if you don’t know how much you’ll use it.
      My advice is to buy yourself a cheap board to start with and if you get stuck with anything, contact us and we’ll do our best to help you out.

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