Watch Linux Boot On Your Hackaday Superconference Badge

Last year’s Hackaday Superconference badge was an electronic tour de force, packing an ECP5 FPGA shoehorned into a Game Boy-like form factor and shipping with a RISC-V core installed that together gave an almost infinite badge hacking potential. It did not however run Linux, and that’s something [Greg Davill] has addressed, as he’s not only running Linux on his badge, but also a framebuffer that allows him to use the badge screen as the Linux terminal screen. Finally you can watch Linux boot on your Superconference badge itself, rather than over its serial port.

He’s achieved this by changing essentially everything: from the new VexRiscv CPU core, to new video drivers and a VGA terminal courtesy of Frank Buss, now part of the LiteVideo project. It’s not quite a fully fledged Linux powerhouse yet, but you can find it in a GitHub repository should you have a mind to try it yourself. Paging back through his Twitter feed reveals the effort he’s put into this work over the last few months, and shows that it’s been no easy task.

For those keeping score at home, this is an open hardware design, running an open CPU core, with community-designed open-source peripherals, compiled by an open-source toolchain, running an open-source operating system. And it’s simply a fantastic demo for the badge, showing off how flexible the entire system is. One of the best parts of writing for Hackaday is that our community is capable of a huge breadth of amazing pieces of work, and this is an exemplar of that energy. We can’t wait to see what Greg and any other readers tempted to try it will come up with.

If you’d like to refresh your memory over the 2019 Supercon badge, here’s our write-up at the time.

via Watch Linux Boot On Your Hackaday Superconference Badge — Hackaday


Linux on Open Source Hardware with Open Source chip design

I attended the 36th Chaos Communication Congress (36c3) during the last
week of 2019 in Leipzig, Germany.  It was an amazing event and Hackaday has good coverage.  All the talks are available online including my talk:

Screenshot from 2020-01-10 14-59-10

Linux on Open Source Hardware with Open Source chip design

Want to run Linux on open hardware? This talk will explore Open Source Hardware projects capable of that task, and explore how RISC-V and free software FPGA projects can be leveraged to create libre systems.

The video is also available on YouTube:

My slides are on SlideShare:

Screenshot from 2020-01-12 13-13-03.png

The slides are also available as a PDF on GitHub.

Linux on Open Source Hardware with Open Source chip design

The first Adafruit Show ‘n Tell of 2020

Joining Adafruit Show ‘n Tell with Helen Leigh was a fun way to start 2020!

Helen embroidered the CircuitPython-powered Serpente board from Arturo at Chaos Communication Congress (36c3):

I showed Linux running on a RISC-V core in the ECP5 FPGA on the Hackaday Supercon badge:

I gave a shout-out to Greg Davill who got Linux booting the OrangeCrab while at 36c3:


Greg’s open hardware OrangeCrab board features the ECP5 FPGA in an Adafruit Feather form factor and is capable of running a RISC-V “soft” core using LiteX.

Find out more about Linux on RISC-V using open source FPGA toolchains in the slides from my 36c3 talk

The first Adafruit Show ‘n Tell of 2020

The rise of the FPGA

Issue 26 of HackSpace Magazine is out! 

I wrote a column about how about open source FPGA tools developed by Claire Wolf, David Shah, and more have made FPGAs more accessible than ever before to makers and hackers:

The Rise of the FPGA

FPGAs have been the talk of the town at many of this year’s hacker conferences. At CrowdSupply’s Teardown there were workshops on two different FPGA boards, the IceBreaker and the Fomu, and Hackaday’s SuperCon based their conference badge on an FPGA. But what exactly is an FPGA, and why are they so hot right now?

Download the free PDF of the issue from the HackSpace website and subscribe if you enjoy the content.  It is one of my favorite magazines!

I only had 400 words for the column so here’s some additional notes:

The rise of the FPGA

Hackaday Supercon badge boots Linux using SDRAM cartridge

Jacob Creedon designed an a cartridge board that adds 32MB of SDRAM to the Hackaday Supercon badgeMichael Welling just assembled a version of the PCB made with the OSH Park “After Dark” black FR-4 service:

The addition of SDRAM provides enough memory to boot Linux on a RISC-V soft-core in the ECP5 FPGA on the badge.  Here’s a screenshot of Linux running:

Read more about “Team Linux on Badge” in this Hackaday post:


And finally, receiving the biggest applause was Linux-on-Badge: this team used all the badge hacking tricks in the book. The hardware component was a 32 MiB SDRAM cartridge by [Jacob Creedon]. The default badge SOC FPGA bitstream was entirely replaced in order to support a minimalist Linux. Much of the development was done on [Michael Welling]’s computer, guided by the precedence of a LiteX project putting Linux on the Radiona ULX3S. This is a true success story of Supercon collaboration as the team (including [Drew Fustini], [Tim Ansell], [Sean Cross], and many others) came together and worked late into nights, drawing from the massive body of collective expertise of the community.

Watch the demo during the Badge Hacking ceremony (jump to 17m 35s):


Note: click the “After Dark” checkbox if you want clear solder mask on black substrate


Demo of Linux-on-LiteX booting on the badge:

Wondering what LiteX is?

LiteX is a FPGA design/SoC builder that can be used to build cores, create SoCs and full FPGA designs

Hackaday Supercon badge boots Linux using SDRAM cartridge

Hackaday Supercon: introduction to the state of the art in open-source FPGAs

Hackaday writes about an interesting talk from the recent Supercon:

David Williams Is “FPGA-Curious” — Hackaday

If you hadn’t noticed, we had a bit of an FPGA theme running at this year’s Superconference. Why? Because the open-source FPGA toolchain is ripening, and because many of the problems that hackers (and academics) are tackling these days have become complex enough to warrant using them. A case in point: David Williams is a university professor who just wanted to build a quadruped robotics project. Each leg has a complex set of motors, motor drivers, sensors, and other feedback mechanisms. Centralizing all of this data put real strains on the robot’s network, and with so many devices the microcontrollers were running out of GPIOs. This lead him to become, in his words, “FPGA-curious”.

If you’re looking for a gentle introduction to the state of the art in open-source FPGAs, this is your talk. David covers everything, from a bird’s eye view of hardware description languages, through the entire Yosys-based open-source toolchain, and even through to embedding soft-CPUs into the FPGA fabric. And that’s just the first 18 minutes. (Slides for your enjoyment, and you can watch the talk embedded below the break.)

Screenshot from 2019-12-06 16-22-42

The second half of the talk is more about his personal experience and advice based on the last year or so of his experience going from FPGA newbie to master of his own robot. He highlights the versatility of a soft-CPU in an FPGA versus a pre-baked microcontroller solution. With the microcontroller you get all of the peripherals built into the silicon, but with the FPGA you get to write your own peripherals. Want a 10-wire SPI-like bus? Just code it up. Your peripherals are as simple or complex as you need them to be.

On the hardware side, David touts the PMOD standard (a man after our own heart!) and points out the large ecology of PMOD-compatible devices out there. Going for a plug-in solution also means that your engineering job is reduced to building a carrier board that can seat the FPGA brainboard of your choosing and interface it with a bunch of PMODs. It’s hard to get much simpler than that.




Open FPGA Hardware and Tooling meetup in London on March 21st

There will be an open FPGA meetup next week in London with speakers David Shah
and Alan Wood:

FPGA Hardware and Tooling: Past, Present and Future

Date And Time: Thu, 21 March 2019, 18:00 – 20:30 GMT

Location: BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, 1st Floor, The Davidson Building, 5 Southampton Street, London

Screenshot from 2019-03-14 12-54-25

  • Open Source FPGA Tooling past to present

David Shah looks at where we have come from with the IceStorm tool chain, and looks at how this has developed recently and expanded Ice40 Lattice support to include new lower power, lower cost, reduced pincount FPGAs to include their Ultra & Ultra Plus range.

  • Open Source FPGA Hardware past to present

Alan Wood talks about the journey through the early history of OpenSource FPGA open hardware from IcoBoard through myStorm too recent UltraPlus offerings recently made available.

  • Open Source FPGA Tooling present to future

Icestorm was aimed at a narrow family of Ice40 FPGAS, the new Symbiflow family of tools expands the opensource tooling exponentially. David Shah takes a look at NextPNR which lies at the heart of the toolset and deals with specific FPGA family functionality, in particular he concentrates on the Lattice ECP5 family support he has developed with Project Trellis as part of NextPNR and the recent 1.0 version supporting this new family and high end FPGA features.

  • Open Source FPGA Hardware present to future

What comes next for opensource FPGA hardware, after the success of tinyFPGA and myStorm we are beginning to see ECP5 opensource hardware emerging first with Radiona’s ULX3S and being followed up by offerings from both tinyFPGA and myStorm dev board stables, with new hardware comes new features building on NextPNRs tooling like DSP, SerDES IO Gearing and DDR memory etc, Alanplots the course for these new powerful open source development boards…

Look for our Drew Fustini (@pdp7) in purple!

Open FPGA Hardware and Tooling meetup in London on March 21st

How a Microcontroller Hiding in a USB Port Became an FPGA Hiding in the Same


Now Tim’s onto the next big thing. He’s adaped the Tomu form factor to an FPGA board called Fomu with an active crowd funding campaign right now. The board will ship with a RISC-V core already loaded that can be programmed using DFU (or possibly mass storage). This is a popular move right now since a lot of people want to play with RISC-V or FPGA and here’s a way to do both without actually having to haul around extra equipment with you.

Some might think: what can you do with an FPGA where it’s kind of hard to connect external circuits? You could practice adding peripherals to RISC-V and other cores, but maybe what you should be thinking is: what could I do with my laptop if I had some dedicated parallel processing available? The board carries a Lattice iCE40UP5K, 1 MB of flash, 128 kB of RAM, runs at 48 MHz, and is compatible with the open source IceStorm toolchain.

via How a Microcontroller Hiding in a USB Port Became an FPGA Hiding in the Same — Hackaday


iCEBreaker, The Open Source Development Board for FPGAs

From  on the Hackaday blog:

iCEBreaker, The Open Source Development Board for FPGAs

The Hackaday Superconference is over, which is a shame, but one of the great things about our conference is the people who manage to trek out to Pasadena every year to show us all the cool stuff they’re working on. One of those people was [Piotr Esden-Tempski], founder of 1 Bit Squared, and he brought some goodies that would soon be launched on a few crowdfunding platforms. The coolest of these was the iCEBreaker, an FPGA development kit that makes it easy to learn FPGAs with an Open Source toolchain.

The hardware for the iCEBreaker includes the iCE40UP5K fpga with 5280 logic cells,, 120 kbit of dual-port RAM, 1 Mbit of single-port RAM, and a PLL, two SPIs and two I2Cs. Because the most interesting FPGA applications include sending bits out over pins really, really fast, there’s also 16 Megabytes of SPI Flash that allows you to stream video to a LED matrix. There are enough logic cells here to synthesize a CPU, too, and already the iCEBreaker can handle the PicoRV32, and some of the RISC-V cores. Extensibility is through PMOD connectors, and yes, there’s also an HDMI output for your vintage computing projects.


Retro CPC Dongle: advise on tented vias

Advice from the Intelligent Toasters blog on how to do tented vias in DesignSpark PCB software:

Retro CPC Dongle – Part 37

Tented Vias – who’d have thought they play such an essential role? If you have no idea what tented vias are, then you’re not alone and I’m here to enlighten you.