‘The weird thing about hardware these days, is it’s more about the software’
I’ve said this loads of times. The idea behind the Omega Project has been rattling around in my head for the last couple of years. It’s nothing new. It’s nothing clever. What caused me to re-open the can and actually do something is this: ¬†An open source tool-chain for an affordable, simple FPGA became possible. Project ICESTORM was reported on Hackaday, and suddenly the lightbulb lit up again – I can do this fully open source, without involving the nasty backend, closed source, license restrictive tools used by the likes of Xilinx and Altera. Suddenly the project made sense. Others spotted this immediately hence a slew of FPGA boards for the Raspberry PI (like the CAT board), standalone boards like project MyStorm What these boards have in common is the Lattice iCE40HX8k FPGA. This little device is available in several variants, in some really tiny packages, and right up into larger QFP and BGA parts. It’s only a small 8K LUT device at the top end of the range, but it is simple, it has embedded SRAM, IO Cells capable of DDR and has an on-chip PLL or two. It’s also very cheap. In short, it’s the perfect hacker FPGA. (also, the cheaper ‘smaller’ iCE40HX4k device is really just a re-badged 8k device! Just don’t tell anyone we already know!)

iCE40HX8k FPGA (datasheet)

  • 7860 4-input LUTs with carry and DFF
  • 128Kbit distributed SRAM
  • 2x 400+ MHz APLLs
  • 8x global clocks with clock-enable support
  • Up to 206 IOs (BGA version)
  • 26 Differential inputs (subtracts from total above)
  • DDR support
  • LVCMOS 1.8, 2.5, 3,3
  • Simple configuration by SPI protocol.