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Oh, the Computation!

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Of course, as I strived to post every Wednesday, the inevitable occured: I forgot.
Since I actually had things to say this time(rantish as they are), I decided posting on Thursday wasn't so bad:

Recently I've been learning VHDL (VHSIC Hardware Description Language) for my goal of implementing a game system in an FPGA. Looking around, the cheapeast FPGA starter kit I could find was one from Xilinx for $99. Before buying it, I of course wanted to make sure I could figure out their design tools, so I downloaded the free web pack (the same versions used for the starter kit), and found that it isn't such a great program:

The first thing that I noticed was that all the documentation is out of date. All the info on their site is about 6.2 and in 6.3 they've vastly changed the names and places of many features.

After fighting my way through the changes so that I could follow their tutorials, I find that the program is the least stable development environment I can think of. It crashed no fewer than 5 times when following a short and simple tutorial, with one of the crashes being reproducable (every time you open then close a certain source file, it crashes the whole program).

I also discovered that the tutorials are not entirely followable on the free version, which a rather Big Deal(TM) considering that you'd probably want to explore the program before paying the thousands it costs. I most definitely wouldn't spend $600(for the cheapeast version that has maybe 1 feature more than the free one) on a program I found to be buggy with poor documentation, especially when it isn't even possible to implement a simple system described in tutorials.

Not only that, but I wrote up a huge message to them figuring maybe I was doing something wrong. I figured I could easily email it to them or submit it via a form and be answered in a few days, but apparently the only way to directly contact them (that I could find) is by applying for permission to use their tech support (or calling, but I most definitely prefer electronic communication since most technical communication can be rather long and complicated and I don't have time to spend 4-5 hours on the phone with them explaining the problems that took 30 minutes to type up. I figured they'd feel the same, but I'm still waiting for approval, so we'll see what happens about that.)

Overall, Xilinx has a rating-- right now and I might just have to spend $30-50 more for a different brand starter kit that has fewer features just so I can get some decent development tools =-(

Edit: Access Denied - "We cannot offer access to students, only teaching assistants and professors."
I guess I'll have to email my complaints to one of the Xilinx representatives that frequents the comp.arch.fpga newsgroup since I can't find any other way to contact them electronically.
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You should try xilinx concurrent - altera. Quartus II Web Edition Software (which can be found here is free. I believe you can program all the atera devices with this pice of software. I know it is more stable than the xilinx IDE so I guess you'll want to give it a try.


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