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How to Develop SoCs with the DE1-SoC Kit

Before we dive dip into this article, we want to mention that Terasic and Altera have been doing an amazing job of improving how we interact with programmable devices. The company has developed the DE1-SoC to be the major platform for configuring System-on-Chips (SoCs).

DE1-SoC is just one of the many configurable development platforms developed by the company. It developed the DE0-Nano platform to be the primary platform for programming and enhancing the further development of the Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs).

In this article, we talk about how you can leverage the DE1-SoC development kit to develop and deploy solutions for System-on-Chips (SoCs).

Introducing DE1-SoC: What Does It Mean?

DE1-SoC is a development kit that provides a wide range of tools needed for the development of System-on-Chips (SoCs).

It is built around the Altera System-on-a-Chip (SoC) Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). It offers this solution with a robust hardware design platform that provides a plethora of tools and peripherals needed for the targeted FPGA’s design.

It is also important to point out here that the DE1-SoC integrates other resources, such as the latest dual-core Cortex-A9 embedded cores that come with the industry-leading programmable logic. This integration is a major elevation to the “ultimate design flexibility” of the DE1-SoC Development Kit.

Design Advantages

Full pcb manufacturing

Let us give you a little background of what a System-on-a-Chip (SoC) means. It implies that the system or the core platform needed for a specific consumer electronics has been embedded or integrated into a chip.

Now, the SoC helps to deploy all of these solutions from one chip, instead of using multiple components for the same purpose.

1. Integrated Components

DE1-SoC houses most of the components needed for the design inside the same chip. We think that this is a significant improvement in how we utilize the necessary tools and peripherals needed for the configuration of System-on-Chips (SoCs).

In addition to integrating most of the needed components, DE1-SoC also makes the kit compatible for use with a computer that runs the Microsoft Windows XP or later.

2. Combined Functions

The functionality of the DE1-SoC is beyond the optimization of the SoC for wholesome usage. It also extends to the leverage of the power of tremendous re-configurability paired with a high-performance, and low-power processor system.

3. The Integrated Architecture

We will like to mention the different architectures integrated into the DE1-SoC and how each of those functions:


Hardware means the components or parts that can be seen. They are the physical devices used to enhance the kit’s capabilities.

Included in the list are:

  • Ethernet networking
  • A high-speed DDR3 memory
  • Video and audio capabilities

DE1-SoC’s Target FPGA

DE1-SoC is targeted at the Altera Cyclone V Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). That is also the FPGA upon which the wide range of SoC solutions would be deployed after the development on the DE1-SoC Development Kit.

Haven noted this, let us talk about how you can configure this FPGA using the extensive solutions offered on the DE1-SoC.

Understanding the Data Storage Process

The idea behind the DE1-SoC is that it serves as a wholesome chip that stores the information or configuration data needed to configure or improve on the performance of the Cyclone V SoC FPGA.

Now, the configuration data can only be transmitted or loaded from the DE1-SoC’s Serial Configuration Device to the Cyclone V SoC FPGA.

Worthy of mentioning is that the configuration data loading process takes place automatically and is subject to a caveat – there must be power supply to the Cyclone V SoC FPGA. What this means is that the Cyclone V SoC FPGA works with power supply and if this is missing, there is a chance that the transfer of the configuration data wouldn’t take place.

Configuration Software

The software needed for the data transfer is the Quartus II Software. One of the major upsides to using the software is the data transfer flexibility that includes the change or optimization of the non-volatile data for excellent retention.

The Quartus II Software is also used to reconfigure the Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), using the configuration data.

Programming Options

There are two options to moving or transferring the configuration data into the Cyclone V SoC FPGA. These programming processes are explained below:

4. JTAG Programming

The Joint Test Action Group (JTAG) is an IEEE standard process of configuring or programming logic devices. It is one of the programming options for the DE1-SoC.

In this case, it involves the direct downloading of the configuration data (bitstream) into the target device – the Cyclone V SoC FPGA.

5. AS Programming

This method of transferring the configuration data is called the Active Serial (AS) Programming. In this case, the configuration data has to be downloaded into the EPCQ256 (a Quad Serial Configuration Device).

This device provides wide range of solutions, ranging from the provision of non-volatile storage of the configuration data. The non-volatility of the storage implies that the configuration data can be retained inside the DE1-SoC Development Kit, even if there is no power supply.

JTAG Programming vs. AS Programming

These are the two major programming methods for passing or transferring the configuration data/bitstream from the DE1-SoC to the Cyclone V SoC FPGA.

However, there is a major difference between the two. That difference is how the configuration data is retained. The AS Programming method retains the data because of the non-volatile memory. On the other hand, the JTAG Programming method doesn’t hold the configuration data (store it) when the power goes off, unlike the AS Programming method that does.

While some FPGA consumers prefer the JTAG Programming because of the straightforward process (involving the direct downloading of the bitstream into the Cyclone V SoC FPGA), others find the lengthy process of the AS Programming method a bit cumbersome. The configuration data is first sent to the EPCQ256 Quad Serial Configuration Device and is only loaded into the Cyclone V SoC FPGA when the power goes off in the DE1-SoC.

Wrapping Up

The DE1-SoC helps you to have a general overview to how System-on-Chips (SoCs) are built. You should consider using it to build and test the SoC you intend using in your consumer electronics to be sure of the capabilities before the launch.



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