Saturday, April 26, 2014

Modelsim and bladeRF go happy together (hopefully)

Introduction and excuses

Busy period last few weeks. Even a retired man sometimes has obligations. And other hobbies perhaps.
I did some programming with SpaceClaim, what a wonderful 3D software! The keyboard of my laptop got some Armagnac, what a waste! Now I use an external keyboard… I spent some weeks in a caravan with my wife, of course I found some time to fiddle with my bladeRF! And I had an ebook (well, actually a pdf file) about VHDL.
But I found some time to study more VHDL, surf the web and think about my bladeRF project. Because the process is more important than my goal/end result I sometimes take sideways instead of the main road to success. An email from Brian made me thinking…


For a simple project you just write some code, try it, find some errors, correct it and finally it is OK. For a little bit more complicated projects this does not work anymore. You need tools. You need an editor that helps you with the syntax of your program, whether it is written in C, python or VHDL. Then you need a debugger/simulator. I don’t like debuggers. I read the error codes, get my aha-erlebnis, correct my errors (well, some, not all) and recompile. Sometimes a lot of cycles in this process.
Many times I saw Mark, a former colleague, use a debugger. He always finds in a very short time all the errors in a program. In the time that I need to edit and compile he runs a debugger/simulator and finds all or most errors.
Brian is right: you need to use Modelsim to simulate your design. Not only to find errors but also to better understand your very own program!


So I decided to learn how to use Modelsim. I read the tutorial and did some experiments. It seems that the tutorial describes a different version than I have in my computer. I need a different method of working with Modelsim. Instead of painfully following a script I will try to describe in global terms what and why in the hope that this leads to a better way of understanding and doing simulation.
In this blog I will try to describe what I learnt so far, in the next blog I hope to show some results.


Alterras tutorial uses two files:


Have a look at these files.


Counter.vhd is a regular vhdl-implementation of a counter. This file looks a bit complicated/daunting  because it is a universal counter. Furthermore they use a function increment. But this is a nice example of a universal VHDL-implementation of a counter.

This counter, counter.vhd, is simulated.
For that, you need an input for the signals clk and reset from the port specification and in the simulation the count will be altered by the clk and reset-signals. In the simulation you should be able to see all these signals.

This counter becomes the DUT, Device Under Test.

How would you test this counter on your lab bench? Well, I would take a button for the reset-signal and a clock-generator connected at the clk-input of the counter.
Then I would connect some display device at the count output of the counter.

I would connect a power supply, start my clock generator and press the reset button. Then I would have a look at the counter. If all is well, you would see an increasing count value. I.e. the higher order bits of count should change less often than the lower bits.

This is exactly what Modelsim will do. You have to connect the DUT to a test-setup. What is a test-setup? A vhdl-file that tells the setup/connections at your workbench and the settings of the signal-generator!


Now have a look at tcounter.vhd

Actually it is a simple file. It describes the port-specification of the DUT, which is our counter counter.vhd. Then incorporates it and feeds it with a clock and a stimulus.

Clock is a simple process that generates a clock-signal that is 10 ns high, 10 ns low. One cycle is 20 ns which makes it into a 50 MHz clock. Simple eh?

Stimulus is a  process that generates the reset signal and then waits forever.

If you start Modelsim and feed it with these two VHDL-files you have your simulation. But how exactly to do that?
To be honest, I don’t  know yet, but I will find out soon…

Stay tuned!


The email from Brian as a response to my previous message is a perfect example of help from the Internet. Brian brought me back to the main road by a very concise and very good explanation of my problems. He did not solve all my problems by the way and that is good! 
I am gonna play around with Modelsim sometime till I know enough to use this product for all my future  VHDL-problems. In the meantime I will try to describe what I did in the hope that others will have less problems than I have/had.

Hope this helps