Hello MiSTer community,
In an attempt to stimulate some discussion around future FPGA platforms/devices that could be implemented as an extension / expansion of the MiSTer eco-system, I would like to ask for feedback on the idea of using the Efinix Trion T120 as a starting point for ideas, discussions and the modifications that would be needed with the MiSTer platform.
Full open transparency here, if the MiSTer user/developer community can decide (or at least have the desire to explore) a new/alternative FPGA based platform, then we could step forward to design a custom FPGA module to have as an alternative to the DE10-nano / or go down a different branch if a change to architecture makes more sense for everyone involved.
We have started on several investigations for FPGA based families for recreation of retro hardware platforms, along with concept ideas based around multiple/modular architectures to allow a fully scalable range of 'platforms' (Console / computer / handheld / Arcade etc.).
Very happy to also have the discussion about how best to help with a design – full open-source hardware etc. - we just want to see some community driven project focus on an alternative to the existing DE10-nano as it’s showing its age and cost are still rising significantly, it’s starting to feel like a dead-end. Working with Core dev’s on this would be ideal, but we are honestly just trying to work out if that’s what the community wants or not? - Not trying to step on any toes here, just offering to help as a way to have something new in the hardware pipe-line so the MiSTer project keep on growing for everyone.
A form-fit-and-function ‘replacement’ DE10-nano style module has a lot of obvious benefits, along with the fact that the TRION family of FPGA’s can scale from smaller devices up to significant sizes, may allow different entry price points for smaller cores - a single Arcade core for example on a smaller dedicated device.
I was not intending this initial discussion to be about what could come next with regards to core development (32bit platforms etc.) but more to consider how to lower the price point and start discussions around how a different FPGA family could be implemented as an alternative within and for the MiSTer project. But feel free to discuss whatever you like, especially if you are an FPGA dev for MiSTer and have some feedback on the Trion Devices / or wish to suggest another family for discussion / consideration.
A few obvious questions to start the discussion –
TRION FPGA’s don’t have an SOC (ARM/Linux) side to them, this could be addressed in a different way (Similar to the original MIST) or a different hardware, embedded firmware architecture could be developed if needed.
Removing the SOC aspect from the FPGA, does have benefits too, so that ARM/Linux I/O side could be replaced with a modular replacement where different microcontrollers could allow a much wider range of use. For example, a very low power ARM part for use in a handheld or a generic ‘Raspberry Pi’ type of module just to do the O/S – USB – File System – network stuff etc.
All FPGA’s are different and they are not easy to compare from a resources standpoint, we also have not yet fully dived into the Efinix FPGA tool-chain but we do see that the TRION FPGA’s are starting to be used for many Retro based projects, like accelerators, ODE’s and similar modular hardware replacements for classis computers & Arcades.
The Efinix Trion T120 evaluation board is already available as a starting point for core evaluation and to assist with working out what the specification of a ‘MiSTer 2.0’ platform could take, what interfaces need to be defined and how we solve the lack of SOC (ARM/Linux) issue.
DDR3 Memory, HDMI, Ethernet, Multiple Oscillators, SPI, High speed MIPI interface, 100 GPIO Pins for almost unlimited expansion options.
In the BGA 324pin FPGA form factor the Trion T120/85 and 55 could all be fitted to allow for different price points and core sizes. Or multiple / modular FPGA’s could be used together to dedicate different core functions (CPU/Graphics for example).
Why am I posting this?
We (Heber) designed the MiSTer Multisystem carrier board for the DE10-Nano, it was just a tiny step but people seem to very much enjoy the concept of a ‘MiSTer console’. It uses the DE10-nano and that has had us thinking about alternatives since before even doing the Multisystem.
It is a little odd to post this as a commercial company into a community based open-hardware development. If the general reply is, we don’t want any help, then that’s okay. We are enthusiasts ourselves and would like to see new platforms discussed. We are offering free help, not trying to railroad the project in any way.
In reality, a project like this takes a massive level of work, we could offer to do some/all of the modular hardware design but there is no sensible way we would start porting cores or write a custom Linux/firmware OS etc.
I also don’t expect anyone to want to build on a closed source hardware platform, the DE10-nano was convenient, but it’s now not viable to replicate, due to cost and component restrictions.
Finally we also don’t want to go ahead and make something that the existing community does not want, or have no interest in using/developing/evolving, so instead of development in secret, how about some open-innovation.
It just seems like a good time to kick off something new and if we can help, even if it’s with ideas then that’s something worth having a discussion about out in the open.